Unbearable Lightness Exhibited in Paris

Centre Pompidou hosts an exhibition devoted to 80’s photography. Heterogeneous, elusive, fantastical, simultaneously light-hearted and serious, the Eighties were rife with contrasts and paradoxes. The exhibition “Unbearable Lightness 1980’s Photography, Film” focuses on a genre of “fabricated” image making that emerged out of that decade. 

The exhibition takes visitors through this decade, with a hundred photographs and films from its collections. The apparent lightness of works characterized by hybridization, irony and counterculture was counterbalanced by the weighty social issues of that decade. Indeed the times were a changin. HIV was first mentioned on June 5, 1981 in a medical journal, Apple launched the Mac in 1984. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and rock was having a renaissance with the fresh sounds of Punk and New Wave.

In this context photographers and filmmakers reinvented the codes of their discipline, moving away from the previous decades focus on the specific features of the medium. The new “fabricated” photography, a counterpoint to the new documentary photography, produced images closely linked with technical developments such as the high-quality color photos, large formats and the instantaneousness of Polaroid.

The exhibition spotlights the photography that emerged then with work by such photographers as Sandy Skoglund (Radio Active Cats, 1980), Pierre et Gilles (Etienne Daho 1984 portrait), Agnes Bonnot’s 1982 typologies and BazileBustamente’s amazing 1984 “Le RVLC,” a kitschy still life ode to artifice. Martin Parr’s ironic ultra saturated photos and Florence Paradeis’ 1988 family scene illustrate new takes on documentary photography.

A decade of photography in only one hundred photos has to leave out some people we would like to see again like Nan Goldin’s 1985 slide show “Ballad of Sexual Dependancy.” But there’s nothing light about Goldin so guess that would explain why she’s not included. And speaking of not light Annie Leibovitz took her famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on December 1980. But “Unbearable Lightness” with a clever wink to Kundera is well worth seeing for the opportunity to reflect on a genre of photography that has become even more popular now than back in the day.

Unbearable Lightness 1980’s Photography, Film to May 23. Centre Pompidou