Le BAL’s Second Anniversary
Diane Dufour is the Director of Le BAL in Paris. A 1930s brothel off the Place Clichy that later served as a betting office before being abandoned in the 1990s, Le BAL has become one of the city’s most beautiful and innovative centers of photography. Diane fought for five years for the right to renovate the space. Today she is celebrating its second anniversary by sitting down with Le Journal’s Bernard Perrine.
Bernard Perrine: Diane Dufour, you are the programming director of Le BAL, now celebrating its second anniversary. What role does it play in the Parisian and French photography scene? And how would you define it? An institution? A gallery? What kinds of photography does it aim to exhibit, promote or defend? And why the name Le BAL?
Diane Dufour: To begin with, the word BAL has no connotations in the world of photography. We kept the name because it references dances held here in the 1920s frequented by Italian immigrants.
For the rest, strictly speaking, Le BAL is neither a gallery nor a museum. I would describe it rather as a space open to all forms of the image: photography, video, cinema and other new media.
It is also a space to host exhibitions, projects, conferences, seminars, discussions, and film and video screenings. There’s a café, too, to keep things convivial.
Bernard Perrine: What do all of Le BAL’s programs have in common?
DD: It might be that they all question the representation of images as we see them every day. One of the best examples is the exhibition Topographies de la guerre, which explored how war is shown today. What do these events mean to us? Can we still understand the world when we see it?
In response to today’s overwhelming flood of images, we organized a discussion concerning ‘The Missing Images’ (Les images manquantes). For example, we haven’t seen a photo of Bin Laden’s body. And a recent report said that one in five in women are beaten. Where are the pictures of that?
Le BAL also examines unresolved questions about current events, as in the exhibition TOKYO-E. How do we show the catastrophe in Japan?
I would also like to stress that while what we just discussed is oriented toward the public, there is another significant aspect to Le BAL, the training program ‘La Fabrique du Regard.’ The president and founder of Le BAL, Raymond Depardon, wrote: “At a time when everything is a pretext to take and disseminate photographs, it is important to offer young people a visual education. If you can teach them to see the world in images, they will be conscious of what they see.”
Since 2008, 6229 students between the ages of 6 and 15 have have been trained to take pictures, make movies, and produce videos and newspapers. The idea is to use images as “machines” to think about the world. To achieve this, they need to be aware of the chain of production of an image. The program relies on a network of artists, historians, image professionals and public and private partners.
Bernard Perrine: Who comes to Le BAL?
DD: We haven’t commissioned any precise sociological studies, but I can tell you two things. Many of them are young. Above all, the public is interested in visual languages. As I said before, at Le BAL there is photography, cinema, animation, discussions, comic books. There are a lot of graphic designers, publishers and other people who have a critical approach to language.
The bookstore, café, discussions, exhibitions, screenings and other events are ways to keep people coming back once they’ve discovered us.
Bernard Perrine: Will the experience of these past two years have an influence on your programming? Are there things you regret doing? Things that you would have liked to have done, or things that you won’t do again? What does the future hold for Le BAL?
DD: The idea we began with, that Le BAL is a process, was more than confirmed. We have to above all keep this space free, but also, in these difficult times, find partners who will continue to finance our work. Some leave, new ones arrive. We are vulnerable, but those are the rules we set at the beginning.
I have no worries about the programming, since we are constantly being offered new projects that are a perfect match for Le BAL. One of our upcoming exhibitions is a project by Gilles Peress.
Otherwise, I have no major regrets, besides not being able to develop Le BAL projects beyond our space, and that I was’t able to put together an exhibition with Lorna Simpson.