Paris Diary - Every Photograph is an Enigma at Maison Européenne de la Photographie

Model Makers' Meeting, Mondial Photo-Presse, c. 1930. 12.8 x 17.6 cm

Model Makers' Meeting, Mondial Photo-Presse, c. 1930. 12.8 x 17.6 cm

Every Photograph is an Enigma at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris consists of photos collected by Michel Frizot, historian of photography and research director at CNRS. It's quite an intensive exhibition based on a lot of research. 

The exhibition unveils enigmas that emanate from photographs that are sometimes seen as banal and useless. This is because Michel Frizot did not choose just any clichés, but that of anonymous people, amateurs, press images, who all slipped past classification and aesthetics.

This is therefore a conter-inspection offered by Frizot. According to him, enigma develops photography. He states the typing modalitites, the photographer's intentions, the multiple reactions and implications of the "photographed," provoking empathy or the need to mention personal concerns. Photography will always have something to thrill one.   via

The exhibition is accompanied with a catalogue that features all the photos from the exhibition, plus a few essays. It was very hard for me photograph what I saw at the museum because the lights were very dim, but below is a selection from the catalogue, which I recommend you get your hands on. You can purchase it from here


Photographic images-so familiar to us-are considered immediately intelligible. And yet, most of them provoke a brief burst of astonishment, doubt or lasting perplexity.

Based on a personal collection of images from various periods gathered over the years, taken by anonymous photographers, forgotten auteurs or amateurs defying the categories established by the concept of the auteur-photographer, Michel Frizot's vision runs counter to the accepted criteria of history, art and excellence.

Every photograph is an enigma for the gaze: for the enigma is part of the photographic act itself. It ensues from the distance between the natural vision and the camera's photosensitive capture process. By widening this gap, the modes of capture, the photographer's intentions, and the reactions and involvement of the « photographee » together create new forms and perceptual requirements specific to photography. It is a question, above all, of understanding how much photographs, by transcending our visual capacities and going beyond our intuitions, also give rise to empathy and the need to project personal concerns. The element of enigma in photography bears witness, in fact, to what it is to « be human ».

Here's a small selection of images, in the categories they appear in the exhibition and book. 

The spririt of the place

Henri Bechard - Tombs of the Calpihs, Cairo, c. 1870. albumen print 26.8 x 36.6 cm

The space of the gaze 

Anonymous, photographic postcard, c. 1910. 9 x 13.9 cm

The photographer's options 

Anonymous, photographic postcard, c. 1916. 8.8 x 13.7 cm

Anonymous, They Try to Photograph Vietnam Veterans after a Demonstration, Washington, 29 March 1974, press photo, 17.5 x 21.8 cm

Original configurations

Untitled, International News Photos, 16.5 x 21.5 cm

The aesthetic solution 

Paris Stock Exchange, 1936, World Wide Photos, 17.8 x 22.8 cm

Anonymous, no caption, c. 1930. 13 x 18 cm

Anonymous amateur, Instamatic 'Bonus' prints, c. 1970.

Challenging the figurative order 

Anonymous, photographic postcard, c. 1910. 9 x 14 cm

The enigma of attentiveness 

Anonymous, no caption, c. 1910. aristotype 17 x 23.5 cm

The enigma of context

Trial of Violette Nozieres at the Cour d'Assises (Criminal Court), 1934, press photo, 15 x 20 cm

Amateur, Untitled, c. 1950. 6.5 x 9 cm

The enigma of relationship 

Anonymous, Children Watching the Apollo 12 Flight on Television, 1969, press photo, 19.3 x 21.4 cm

Ambigious assemblages

Marinus (M. J. Kjelgaard), The Temptation, after A. Scheffer, photomontage for Marianne, October 1939, 30.2 x 24 cmAnonymous, 'In Poland, 1923', photomontage, photographic postcard 12.9 x 8.6 cm

The exhibition is on at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris till 25th January 2015. It will move to Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France between 14th February - 17th May 2015 and in Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland between 24th October 2015 - 14th February 2016.