Whether profession or passion, art spurs an unwavering thirst for endless research and subsequent discoveries, each of them amplifying the yearning for further finds. Tarek Nahas and Jean-Luc Monterosso share just such a sweet obsession, at whose core is an eagerness to shed light on the diversity of artistic approaches and messages seen across the medium of photography.
Evidence of this can be found in their coming together as co-curators of Open Rhapsody, a group show hosted at the Beirut Exhibition Center in March 2015. A Beirut-based lawyer and passionate photography collector, Nahas initiated the project with the aim to showcase the photographic and video-making practices of local and regional artists, whose works he gained access to through 10 of his collector friends. As the Director of La Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris, Monterosso participated in the elaboration of the show by contributing artworks from the MEP’s public collection.[/two_columns_one] [two_columns_one_last]
A philosophy scholar and member of Centre Pompidou’s pre-opening team, Monterosso has founded a number of organisations and initiatives throughout a successful 40-year career, in an attempt to uplift perceptions about photography and gain its acceptance among audiences as a fine art practice. While he admits to not having an appropriation instinct when it comes to art, Monterosso defines himself as an explorer of images, with good reason. Here he shares his views on photography, and engages in a conversation with Tarek Nahas about his selection of inspirational works.[/two_columns_one_last]
Selections: What first drew you to photography, and how did you discover this medium?
Jean-Luc Monterosso: I discovered the photo graphic medium in 1974, as part of the team working on the prefiguration of the Centre Georges Pompidou museum. Around that time, I also started writing a regular column on photography in a daily newspaper, which I pursued for four years.
Tarek Nahas: I believe that I was interested in photography in general, and after I made my first few impulsive purchases of photography works, I realised that this was the medium that I liked most and decided to educate myself through readings, attending exhibitions, dialogue with gallery owners, going to museum shows around the world, etc.
S: What aspects do you look for in an artwork?
JLM: What interests me most about contemporary photography is an approach that incites me to better understand the world, to see life with new eyes. I am moved by photographs that stimulate me to see more and more deeply, to notice something I would have otherwise ignored—by photography that is transformative.
TN: It has first and foremost to bring an emotion and a “fresh eye”. I particularly like conceptual photography and staged photography, as the photography by itself is only the medium through which the artists express their art.
S: While conceptual art begins to meet a growing interest among Middle Eastern art collectors, photography still seems underestimated, appreciated only by a handful. What would you say to those hesitating about this medium?[two_columns_one]
JLM: In today’s world, the photographic medium has been adopted by countless artists, and photography is accepted by and promoted in numerous art galleries. However, being a photography collector requires a certain comprehension of the medium and of its history, as is the case with contemporary art. Because they are unfamiliar with this history, many people miss out on this art, which has become prominent in today’s society.[/two_columns_one] [two_columns_one_last]
TN: Photography in the world today has its place alongside all other artistic mediums. This is confirmed by the fact that the major galleries in the world have now a substantial number of photographers among their artists, and that a growing number of museum shows are dedicated to photography. In addition, many artists are multi-disciplinary, and photography is today one of the mediums through which they express their art. I would recommend that they look into photography works by Middle Eastern artists and they will find that photography is an integral part of their artworks.[/two_columns_one_last]
S: On the other hand, Peter Lik’s Phantom broke the world record in December last year, with a reported $6.5 million sale. Would you credit this result and other similar multi-million prices to effective promotion or talented creativity?
JLM: Since the early 1980’s, photography has shifted from being a document to being seen as a legitimate art form. I have witnessed enormous changes in the market due both to changes in the way artists use the medium and to the way it is perceived. Tremendous pressure has been placed on the photography market because we are arriving at the end of analog photography, so these works, especially vintage prints, are limited in number and are perceived as precious. But the result for Peter Lik’s Phantom seems to be the result of promotion and has little in common with prices paid for important artworks, modern or contemporary, like those by Richard Avedon or Edward Steichen, Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall.
TN: Art, whatever the medium, is something that moves and informs you or changes your opinion. In my opinion, Peter Lik’s photography has nothing to do with creative photography; it has more to do with promotion. I believe that we have to differentiate his photography and works by artists such as Andreas Gursky or Cindy Sherman who represent for me creative photography and which works have reached the highest prices before the one by Lik.
S: Are you a photographer yourself? And if so, are your images the result of spontaneity or are they planned?
JLM: No, I do not myself take photographs. My life is about working with photographers, encouraging and supporting them by organising exhibitions, creating publications and collecting their work. I have been fortunate throughout the years to accompany many exceptional artists, including Robert Frank, William Klein, and Irving Penn.
TN: I am not a photographer myself. I leave this activity to the artists.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Curious Issue #30, on page 54.