Cécile Schall and the fotofever art fair


Cécile Schall, grandchild of the famous French photographer Roger Schall, is the founder of one of the most renowned photography fairs at international level: fotofever art fair (www.fotofeverartfair.com). This show, whose first edition was held in Paris in November 2011, was followed in October 2012 by the first launch in Brussels and the year after by the second edition in Paris and Brussels. 2014 will see the third edition of this not-to-be-missed appointment from November 14 to 16 in Paris.

Born to promote and support new generations of artists using photography as a medium and explore new trends, fotofever also tries to tear down the barriers that sometimes are built between users, gallery owners, artists and collectors. The focus is photography and the passion of the people that are part of it.


B: Cécile, how your being the granddaughter of the famous photographer Roger Schall has influenced your personal and professional choices? You come from a three generations-old family of photographers, but you didn’t choose, let’s call it the most natural course from the start. You decided to take a different path, studying very specific and pragmatic subjects.


C: It was photography that chose me. I fell into it even before I was born! After a long journey, I realized that my vocation was to promote artists and no longer Lu biscuits or Buitoni pizzas. It took me a long time before I dared choosing what I always really wanted to do: create my company, launch my own brand, my own event to promote today’s photography and artists.


B: Before making your trenchant entry in the world of photography, you worked for 15 years in the marketing and communication sector. At 21, you were in New York working for an important French Company, and three years later you returned to France where you worked for three big International Corporations. After this first work experience, you decided to focus your energies on your grandfather’s photographic archives. Of this work you have made an interesting exhibition, “Paris vu par Roger Schall” (2005), which collects 64 pictures, many of them still unpublished. I guess that your grandfather’s archives contain an incredible number of photos, and your choice hasn’t been easy. How did you select the pictures for the exhibition?


C: Before telling you how hard it was to select the pictures among the 80,000 of the archives, I have to tell you the story of this incredible exhibition, set up on 3 floors of a 56,000 sqm shopping center welcoming more than 50,000 daily visitors.

In January 2003, when I started to dive into Roger Schall’s archives, I was like a child discovering a treasure. After a whole year spent in contacts, negatives, publications in magazines of the 30’s… the evidence for me was to create a new way of exhibiting photography, in public spaces, such as Yann Arthus Bertrand did for the Luxembourg with “Terre vue du Ciel”. I wanted to show in the light this incredible work, but not in a museum, I was not competent enough to organize exhibitions in museums. I had friends running advertising agencies, and one of them was seduced by the idea for one of his clients: the Hammerson Parisian shopping center “Italie Deux”. He asked me to set up the whole project.  I worked 6 months on the “Paris vu par Roger Schall”, a free exhibition seen by more than 2 million visitors during 6 weeks.


But let’s go back to your question about the selection of the pictures... First I had to find the exhibition theme and validate it with Hammerson, my client.

Since the shopping center wanted to position itself as “the most Parisian shopping center”, the theme was quite easy to find: it had to be Paris. Paris was also the city where my grandfather grew up, so it made sense: Paris vu par Roger Schall was the title. But the Paris section of the archives contained more than 20,000 pictures and most of them had never been edited!

So I had to look at all theses contact sheets, and concentrate on these 4x4 cm small images, thinking about them on a 1 x1 m print in a 56,000 sqm venue…not easy! And each of the photographs had to be validated by Hammerson. Patience, passion and empathy were my guiding values. Since the exhibition had to be set up on 3 floors, my “fil rouge” was to find 3 relevant subjects with unusual views of Paris: women, architecture, Parisian events.

At last, in order to fit in the budget, I decided to fix the right number of images: 64 was a good number…


B: What do you think of Martin Fraudeau’s film-documentary “Roger Schall, l’homme au Rolleiflex” released in 2009?


C: This movie is a good start to promote the work of my grandfather, and I’m pleased that it has been shot in his Montmartre studio that today no longer exists, but there’s still a lot to do to give to the public a full portrait of the man and of his work and place him in the family context with Emile, his father, who was already a photographer in the 19th  Century; Raymond, his younger brother, publisher of photography books; and Jean-Frédéric, his son, also a photographer…


B: I just went a little astray… let’s get back to business, as they say. Can we say that 2005 represented for you a sort of turning point? You began working as freelance, specializing in the organization of contemporary art fairs - important collaborations. Then, in 2011, you decided to create something yours. Maybe the time had come to follow a current contrary to the institutional one?


C: I think the real turning point was the exhibition I “sold” to the SNCF, the French railway company, in 2007: La Montagne de Willy Ronis, from the book edited by Terre Bleue editions. This free exhibition was seen by millions of people, it was outside the Parisian Gare de Lyon, on the freshly renovated forecourt in February and March 2007, when people go to the Alps to ski.

I am very proud of this exhibition because I find it a real smart idea at the right time and I had the chance to find the right people to sell it! The concept was so strong that since then, the SNCF kept the idea of running photography exhibitions on the forecourt without paying attention to whom brought them the idea…


B: How did you get the idea of fotofever, and why its name?


C: The idea of fotofever comes directly from my personal history. After 30 years working for others, I needed to find my independence, the freedom to create something of my own… international, art, and event were my 3 guiding values to step into my new working world! That’s when I got the proposal to launch the Affordable Art Fair in Paris and Brussels, which I did until 2011. An international art fair was exactly what I was looking for, without knowing it!

Will Ramsay, the Affordable Art Fair and Pulse founder, also co-founder of Art Hong Kong (now Art Basel Hong Kong) taught me everything about organizing successful art fairs. After 3 years and 6 fairs launched with success in Paris and Brussels, I proposed to Will to launch a photography art fair in Paris because Paris Photo was getting more and more international and no satellite fair existed yet, as in other big art cities such as Basel, Miami and New York.

But he never thought that a specialized fair in Paris could be profitable… he was not totally wrong!


Now, about the name of fotofever, it is also a nice story I have told no one. After working in marketing and communication, I became very fond of brands! But in the art market, I realized that brands were quite poor… most of the fairs are named with ART and the name of the city… Art Basel, Paris Photo… boring, I think!

I wanted to find a real name, unique, original, ambitious, suited for an international vocation and with a real personality. I had first the idea of Photo Fever, thanks to a great event in Brussels called “Museum Night Fever”. You know, the movie Saturday Night Fever was released when I was 14 and I always loved to dance on the Bee Gees! Fever is the expression of passion and also very adapted to the craziness of some collectors who can’t stop buying… very compulsive.

But I did not find Photo Fever nice to the eye…I wanted one word and I thought that 2 “F” was a good way to give more personality and Fotografy is the right spelling in many countries… except in French  and English.

And last thing, no capital letters because fotofever is a friendly and not pretentious brand!

That’s how fotofever was born in April 2011, a few months before the first edition in Paris.


B: fotofever aims at supporting and giving voice to new generations of photographers, putting them in contact with users and potential future collectors, thus creating a different approach also towards those galleries that promote newcomers. I would say that in this intent there is a will to broadcast photography at all levels. Don’t you fear that this would lead to a new mass market deployment and the consequent loss of that passion that drives creativity?


C: fotofever aims at supporting Photography as the best art medium to buy, with the idea to help developing the number of art collectors among new generations of individuals and companies, a priority for me to support talented living artists.

fotofever selects galleries willing to develop the market towards new buyers. Exhibiting new and unknown artists is a good way to seduce new buyers I think. You are not looking for a name but you are just guided by your emotion, whatever the name of the artist. And there are more living talented and accessible artists that known and famous expensive artists.

Since the photography market has been developed for a few decades, it is logical that the mass market is growing in parallel. But public has to be educated to know the difference between an art gallery defending the work of real artists and photo shops selling photography with unlimited editions at cheap prices. In the first case, the artist gets a 50% commission on sales and has a partnership with his/her gallery on a long term basis; in the second case, it is more like in the publishing business, the artist gets a 4% commission and his/her photographs are just sold like the posters we used to buy in the 80’s. These are two different markets, just like in other sectors and people can buy both items but not for the same reasons. The case would be the same in design for instance, with Ikea and a brand of Italian design. The prices are not the same but the product is not the same either.

In the fine art market, there are several actors between the artist and the buyer (agent, gallery, fair) that allow the artists to create without taking into account what the market wants.

So I am very confident about the fact that creativity will still exist and develop. The most difficult part will always be the capability to recognize the real talent and to reveal him/her at the right time so that he/she can meet his/her public.

For me the worst thing is to realize that great artists are unable to get success before they die: I will call it the Van Gogh syndrome…


B: In the same week of fotofever, the Grand Palais in Paris will host the Paris Photo; two very important international shows with very different purposes. Looking at these two fairs, the picture that comes to my mind brings me back to 1874 and to the first official collective exhibition of the Impressionists as “independent artists” in the photography studio of Nadar in Rue des Capucines. I’m not saying that fotofever is a sort of “Salon des Refusés” and Paris Photo represents the “Salon de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts”, but I can’t deny that there seems to be a “common thread”… The creation of a new artistic reality that doesn’t follow the canons, at least at the start, always causes some turmoil. What kind of difficulties, if any, you faced with the first edition of fotofever?


C: I like your question because it gives me the opportunity to tell the story, I love stories!

18 years ago, Rick Gadella, a smart and passionate Dutch photography publisher had the great idea to launch a Photography fair in the Carrousel du Louvre in November, during Le Mois de la Photo1 in Paris, which exists since 1980. The concept was great and Paris was the right city to launch it. At this time, 2 other photography fairs already existed in LA and NY but they kept local, while Paris Photo succeeded in being international from the beginning. Paris Photo and the Mois de la Photo contributed to give Paris its status of Worldwide Capital of Photography. Then in 2002, Rick Gadella sold Paris Photo to Reed (the first fair organizer in the world, also organizing Fiac in Paris) in order to give more means to the fair, and became the main international photography art fair in the world. Paris Photo is now a big market: a good place for vintage photography (still the biggest part of the photography market) and big names in contemporary photography. But there is no much room for emerging photography because exhibitors have so much to pay, they have to limit their risks by selling good values.


fotofever has been launched 3 years ago with the aim to bring a new international platform to sell emerging photography to new collectors. The idea was first to launch a fair in Paris, The Capital of Photography, then Brussels, the capital of Europe, much more accessible, then one fair on each continent in order to contribute to develop the market for young photographers.

From the beginning, fotofever’s ambition has never been to be the Salon of the Rejected of Paris Photo, even if we are happy to welcome a few “rejected”… In Paris I would say that fotofever is a satellite fair of Paris Photo, and not an “Off” fair that already exists. The aim is different than Paris Photo’s one, we are a good complement because we educate new collectors who will be able to buy later at Paris Photo… and we are far less expensive for the exhibitors, our prices being adjusted to the price of the art work sold at fotofever.


About the first edition, I would say it was quite easy. I had a great small venue, Espace Cardin, very close to the Grand Palais, and Nicolas Laugero Lasserre, the Director, gave me a good price to make the first edition possible. I needed to make a selection of 40 galleries to finance the fair. A small fair is much easier and less risky to organize than a big one…

What was much more difficult is the second edition. It could not take place in Paris in 2012 because Paris Photo changed its dates and I could not make it at the Espace Cardin. When I asked the Carrousel du Louvre, I have received 2 “no” before getting a YES in October 2012… That’s why I launched the first edition in Brussels in 2012!

Being a small organization, it is not easy to get positive answers…


B: Photography is a young art that has been subjected to harsh critics in the past. Today, instead, we see many contaminations. An ever-growing number of artists use photography as a complementary instrument in their works. Don’t you think that this boundless use of photography in every art expression is a little misrepresentative of the true essence of photography, missing the concept of capturing the instant of a reality that is continuously changing and in motion?


C: Photography is young but multiple, and I am always very happy to show at fotofever how creative Photography can be. Photography can be a technique, a support, a way of capturing life, of reproducing. Photoshop is the new laboratory… But I think that what is important is not the tool, but the way the artist uses it; what is important is the artistic process and the artistic object, the artwork. Artists can paint on a photograph, can cut photographs to create an artwork with photography… creativity is endless !


B: Do you reckon that last years’ trend to look at the past through the use of films, large format cameras, wet plate collodion process, platinum palladium is the new countertrend?


Nowadays, since everybody is able to take good photographs and to print digital photography at home with good printers, artists have to be creative in the way they want to express themselves when they use photography. It can be the way they take a picture, using for instance an old analog camera with an old film they can find in a flea market; it can be the way they print the picture with very old techniques that give a real personality to the object, the artwork. And the public will not say “I could do the same”… I was very happy that last year’s fotoprize winner was a young Belgian, Saartje van de Steene, who used wet plate collodion for the work that he exhibited.


B: I guess you are a collector. What was the first photography or artwork that you bought?


C: I do have a few photographs but I do not consider myself as a collector. The first and only photography I bought for myself was at the first Affordable Art Fair I organized in Paris in May 2008. The artist is English, James Sparshatt, and I paid the first edition of 7 in 10 installments! It’s hanging in my living room and I still love it.

I would say that I am more collecting exhibitors, trying to find with them the artists that could find their public at fotofever.


B: From November 14 to 16, Paris will host the third edition of fotofever. Any sneak preview?


C: For this third edition, I have the chance to have in my team a key person who was already there last year, hired after 1 year of internship. She is Italian, and without her fotofever will not have the same success in 2014. In order to increase the number of Asian galleries, we hired 2 young students, one from Japan and one from China… That’s the reason why we are able to present more than 15 Asian exhibitors, maybe the best exhibitors and artists in the fair. In order to show to the galleries that we were improving our selection, I set up an artistic committee with the French gallerist Baudoin Lebon and the Belgian collector Galila Barzilaï Hollander. Exhibitors always need to be reassured about the quality of the exhibition…

I think that in 2014 I succeeded in setting up a low cost and very efficient organization… a good way to be successful!


B: What do you think will be fotofever’s evolution from here to ten years?


C: I would love to do what I said I would do, launch one fair on each continent, but I have to find the right way to do it… and maybe it is too crazy to think about doing it… but I was crazy enough to launch 4 fotofever editions in 2 years! I think the best thing will be to do less and better and find more means to do it much better...

So I think that in 10 years, fotofever will be grown up and will occupy the 7000 sqm of the Carrousel du Louvre to promote more and more galleries and artists from all over the world. Fotofever will be a strong brand, not only a photography fair… and fotofever will be profitable enough so I can hire the best people to keep working on developing the brand…


B: Cécile, thank you so much for your time.



B.O. © Floz Visions 2014