Roses, Cyanotypes and Grannies With Guns: Looking Back at Photo London 2015
Festivals and FairsReviews

Roses, Cyanotypes and Grannies With Guns: Looking Back at Photo London 2015

Last week London’s photography scene was set ablaze following the highly anticipated opening of Photo London. Originally launched in 2005 by Daniel Newburg, Photo London was purchased by Reed Expositions in 2007 but closed its doors after only one year. The worldwide financial crisis played a role in the closure, but it was also felt that the fair’s move from Mayfair to Old Billingsgate and its subsequent focus solely on contemporary photography, were equally responsible for its eventual demise.

Under the new direction of Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad of Candlestar – the company behind the Prix Pictet and Syngenta Photography Awards – the fair has been completely re-imagined. Photo London is the largest single event takeover of Somerset House. Reportedly the directors envisaged an event that would emulate Frieze and rival leading photography fair, Paris Photo.

With over 70 exhibitors from across the world, there was something to sate all appetites. The Photographers’ Gallery Print Sales exhibited the work of Maurizio Anzeri, Sebastião Salgado, Tamas Dezso, Pentti Sammallahti and Martina Lindqvist. Over the five days we had the opportunity to see the wealth of photographic talent that was on show. Here’s a round-up of our highlights.

Overall it was clear that the trend for an engagement with photographic processes, and a focus on the objecthood of photography, has far from dissipated. New York’s Yossi Milo Gallery brought the cameraless work of Marco Breuer who emphasises the materiality of the photographic print through a unique process of scratching and incision. Perhaps the most impressive on-site installation was photographer Sohei Nishino’s cityscape diorama consisting of thousands of hand-stitched photographs.

Thomas Mailaender, Unique cyanotype works on plasterboard, 2014. Courtesy of Roman Road, London

Thomas Mailaender, Unique cyanotype works on plasterboard, 2014. Courtesy of Roman Road, London

Unsurprisingly, many galleries brought their best-sellers and crown jewels (resulting in perhaps one too many examples of Cartier-Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard!), such as William Eggleston’s still life of roses (1971-73) presented by Rose Gallery. Yet there was equally a keen emphasis on new work. A section of the fair, aptly titled ?Discovery’, was entirely devoted to emerging talent. Roman Road Gallery showed Thomas Mailaender’s humour-infused large-scale cyanotypes, another nod to the current focus on analogue processes. The trend for photographers adopting a cross-disciplinary approach to the medium was especially evident at the Royal College of Art’s space, which brought together alumni of the college through the years 2010-14. For example, Tom Pope’s work explored the intersection of performance and photography, while Phillip Dorl’s composite image of twelve photographs attached to the wall with blue tape, depicted a swan photographed with his camera phone.

Equally engaging were more sculptural responses to photography found in the work of Daisuke Yokota shown by G/P Gallery. Yakota’s layers of photographic paper pinned to the gallery wall and cascading onto the floor, seemed to fuse visual elements of abstract painting and traditional Japanese ink drawing. The Photographers’ Gallery itself brought new work by Maurizio Anzeri. The Italian artist originally trained as a sculptor and his mobile comprising thirty-nine hand embroidered photographs marks an exciting departure in his practice which is now primarily focused on showing work in 360 degrees.

Maurizio Anzeri, Vapensiero, 2015, Sculpture of 39 unique hand embroidered photographs of multiple dimensions. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Maurizio Anzeri, Vapensiero, 2015, Sculpture of 39 unique hand embroidered photographs of multiple dimensions. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London

New approaches to well-established genres were equally present. Michael Hoppen Gallery brought Eamonn Doyle’s images of hunched figures on the streets of Dublin – the unusual angles and colourful palette breathing new life into the genre of street photography.

There was much classic black-and-white photography on show. London’s Eric Franck Fine Art brought some particularly sobering work from Chris Killip. Timothy Taylor was one of the few galleries which gave over their entire booth to the work of one artist, and they did so to great effect. Diane Arbus’ enigmatic portraits of couples commanded the space extremely well. An intriguing series of black-and-white photographs by Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko was shown by the Nailya Alexander Gallery. Taken in St Petersburg following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Titarenko’s haunting landscapes populated by shadowy figures, conjure a time of political turmoil and great anxiety.

Alexey Titarenko, Untiled (Crowd 1), St. Petersburg, Russia, 1992. Courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, USA

Alexey Titarenko, Untiled (Crowd 1), St. Petersburg, Russia, 1992. Courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, USA

Without doubt the venue itself set Photo London apart from other art fairs. A wonderful sense of discovery was felt when moving through the rooms of Somerset House. Each gallery crafted a unique character by molding itself into the nooks and crannies of the historic building. The program of events and curatorial collaborations – such as the V&A’s Beneath the Surface exhibition at Somerset House – raised the status of the event and the presence of publishers and the photobook fair Offprint London, held at Tate Modern, acknowledged the continuing importance of the photobook.

In terms of its international reach, the majority of galleries were based in the UK, ten were from the US and twenty across mainland Europe. The significant influence of Japanese photography was well acknowledged, both by the artists already mentioned, but also by major Japanese photography gallery Taka Ishi and Zurich based Christophe Guye Galerie.

The fair achieved significant success in raising the profile of photography in the UK and we look forward to its return in 2016.

– Sarah Allen

Reviews

Elisa Sighicelli at MOT International

Installation view, Elisa Sighicelli at MOT, London.

Installation view, Elisa Sighicelli at MOT, London.

The pieces displayed in Elisa Sighicelli’s first exhibition at MOT International look deceptively simple. Three of the four gallery walls are occupied with works from an untitled series in which photographs of fabrics are nailed and gaffer taped to the walls. Both the tape and the nails are real, but also reproduced in the photographs, visible underneath, creating a subtle destabilisation of one’s perception – a topsy-turvy trompe l’oeil in which the suggested objects are actually there. The other untitled series, displayed across the long fourth gallery wall, comprises eighteen round photographs of crystal objects framed in convex glass. The glass device renders the images even more slippery and porous, allowing them to subsume and reflect the external elements, such as the viewers and gallery lights. In both series Sighicelli plays with the idea of doubling or mirroring, and teases out the messy barriers between reality and representation, between presence and absence and, crucially, between image and object.

Although the exhibition comprises serialised and rather homogenised iterations of two main conceits, a few works stand out. Untitled (1632) (2014), for example, is a photograph of a silver piece of silky fabric pending from two (real) nails and inspired by the legend of the veil of Saint Veronica. According to it, Veronica encountered Jesus Christ as he carried his cross to the Calvary, and offered him her veil to wipe his blood and sweat, leaving an imprint of his face on it. For Sighicelli the story is highly suggestive not from a strictly religious point of view, but because the veil – a recurrent motif in many Renaissance paintings – is an early manifestation of an image within an image’ or, as the artist herself told me, “ the first Polaroid in history”. The legend seems to encompass a set of concerns central to Sighicelli’s practice: on the one hand, her long held interest in Renaissance aesthetics and, on the other, her fascination with artefacts and artworks that simultaneously feature both reality and its indexical mark.

Untitled (1632), Pigment print on archival paper mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 110.5 x 110.5 cm, 2014

Untitled (1632), Pigment print on archival paper mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 110.5 x 110.5 cm, 2014

Across the room, the photographs Untitled (1517)Untitled (1577) – both 2014 – and Untitled Silk (2013), are both fixed and connected by long stripes of gaffer tape criss-crossing the wall. Again, the images feature elegantly coloured fabrics, pinched and ruffled by pieces of tape, both in the reality and temporality of the gallery and of the studio, when the photographs were taken. The geometrical lines created by the tape are extremely simple and yet, in conjunction with the lush fabrics, they manage to create a texturised sculptural space that sits halfway between the collage and the installation, recalling the mesmerising, abstract photographic arrangements made by Barbara Kasten in the 1980s.

Untitled (Silk), Pigment print on archival paper, gaffer tape, 56.6 x 71.6cm, 2013.

Untitled (Silk), Pigment print on archival paper, gaffer tape, 56.6 x 71.6cm, 2013.

The new works gathered in this exhibition are a point of departure for Turin-based Sighicelli. Her previous projects focused mostly on interiors, architectural details and even Renaissance paintings, exploring the poetics of space and light in photographs that shared the understated and serene universe of Uta Barth and Luisa Lambri. Displaying them in partially backlit boxes, though, Sighicelli was already producing images-as-objects. But whereas her conceptual crux then seemed to be the representation and materialisation of light, her most recent output seems to have shifted towards the unsolvable riddle of representation itself, which results in a playful exploration of the trickeries of perception.

Untitled pigment prints on polyester white film mounted on plexiglas, convex glass, 36.5 cm, 2014

Untitled pigment prints on polyester white film mounted on plexiglas, convex glass, 36.5 cm, 2014

With the use of real elements to complete the photographic prints, pinning them, literally, on the plane of real physicality, the artist is also re-claiming a material stake for a medium that has become relentlessly dematerialised since the advent of digital technologies. Yet, despite the emphasis on materiality, this is Sighicelli’s first series to be shot with digital cameras. Committed to analogue photography until very recently, embracing digital technology has meant for the artist “ a liberation, providing me with a newly found freedom to experiment and play in the studio”.

This development creates an even more convoluted interplay of the indexical, that type of image-making that bears the physical traces of the photographed objects with its digital, disembodied counterpart. A beguiling loop between reality and its representation, from which I am still trying to find a way out.

All images © The artist and MOT International. Elisa Sighicelli ran at MOT International, London, between 23 May – 28 June 2014.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso is a writer, critic and curator based in London. Her writing has appeared in Photoworks, frieze, art-agenda, The White Review, …ment Journal, Revista Concreta, and this is tomorrow, as well as in several artist monographs, gallery and museum publications.

Photography Science and TechnologyReviews

Black Diamond – Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

In The Right to Look: A Counter History of Visuality (2011) Nicholas Mirzoeff traces the original deployment of the word visuality from its usage in war zones. Visuality expressed the ability of the General to oversee the conflict from an elevated position and strategise far from the action. It was the capacity to look without being seen, and the primary weapon of power is the ability to control visibility; the panoptic gaze is one that can’t be returned. Mirzoeff’s formulation of the counter-visual can be summed up as the response to the command: “ there is nothing to see here, please move on” with “ let me see for myself.”

Mishka Henner’s first solo exhibition in London, Black Diamond at Carroll/Fletcher, interrogates the potential of the counter-visual. In Henner’s most famous work, made in 2009, he appropriated Robert Frank’s iconic book The Americans, cutting out parts of it so that elements of the original photographs floated on white backgrounds. It was a neat conceptual gesture that inverted the impetus of social photography. Documentary discourse has been historically allied to the democratic project – visual representation is tied to political recognition. Henner’s iconoclasm inscribes his own subjectivity over the canonical work, asserting his own historical conditions. Henner replaces the shutter for the screen grab, a camera for the laptop – he doesn’t make images but sources them – navigating and editing what is already available.

‘If we extend the persistent allusions to the Internet as a type of liquid expanse, then the spammer is a type of pirate that occupies the semi-legible spaces between international jurisdictions.’

Mishka Henner, Cedar Point Oil Field, Archival pigment print mounted to aluminium in tray frame, 149 x 258 cm, 2013-14. ©The artist. Image courtesy Carroll/Fletcher.

Mishka Henner, Cedar Point Oil Field, Archival pigment print mounted to aluminium in tray frame, 149 x 258 cm, 2013-14. ©The artist. Image courtesy Carroll/Fletcher.

The series Feedlots and Oil Fields (2013-14) are representative of his practice. The large-scale photographs, installed over the first two galleries of the exhibition, present the two most in-demand commodities in America – beef and oil. The photographs are uniformly sourced from Google Maps and printed at scale with evident high-production values. The drone-like images feel ominous. Cows, houses, people and cars start to look the same, each becoming a component of a much larger abstract system. The expanses depicted are the manufacturing sites of global capital and the cheap fuel and food that sustain our economic conditions. Like Dorothea Lange’s images of displaced agricultural migrants during the American Depression, Henner’s work depicts, with affective immediacy, an economic system that resists visual representation.

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

In the third gallery Fifty-One Military Outposts (2010) Henner displays images on top of plinths. The photographs present Google Map images of American military bases around the world. We hover over the image, inverting the surveillance-like gaze – the watched become observers. The project shifts the public documentarism articulated by Frank and Lange towards the unseen spaces of private finance and security. The co-ordinates of the sites were sourced from WikiLeaks and public domain ‘loop holes’. The ability to navigate and edit data provides new conditions of political accountability in an era of information as capital. Henner’s work recalls Eyal Weizman’s reading of the politics of verticality in relation to the Israel occupation of Palestine. For Weizman, power is structured around a vertical axis by asserting sovereignty over the land (through archeology) and surveillance (by controlling the elevated spaces and skyline). Henner’s images of military sites  dramatise this verticality by inviting the spectator to look down at things shot from above.

Downstairs Henner presents Scam Baiters (2013 – present), a new body of work that explores the strategy of Internet vigilantes who feign receptivity to email scammers in order to publicly expose them. The project brings together email correspondence, signs and photographs made by the scammers in a process that remains slightly oblique. If we extend the persistent allusions to the Internet as a type of liquid expanse, then the spammer is a type of pirate that occupies the semi-legible spaces between international jurisdictions. Through his presentation Henner attempts to re-embody these virtual figures that normally remain out-of-sight. One can also see the scammer offering another in-demand, if non-existent, commodity – easy money.

Similarly to the larger photographic work seen upstairs, Henner formulates representative conditions for places and people that would prefer to remain hidden. Whether it is agricultural, virtual or military topologies, Henner’s work is engaged in a complex and experimental relationship with the documentary tradition of photography. His practice is pervaded by the notion of the counter-visual, and taken collectively, his images offer new opportunities for the development and understanding of documentary practice.

The Rehearsal of Space: Edgar Martins at Wapping Project Bankside
Reviews

The Rehearsal of Space: Edgar Martins at Wapping Project Bankside

We think we know what space exploration looks like, but a big part of that idea comes from popular culture and in particular from fictional representations. I’m dimly aware that I tend to compare visions of space to movies which have had a formative influence on me, almost judging the value of science fact by how far it correlates with the visuals of science fiction.

On a visual level Edgar Martins’ The Rehearsal of Space and The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite had me from first glance. These large, beautiful prints capture the strange geometry of the high-tech facilities of the European Space Agency (ESA), with whom Martin undertook a two year residency. From a vacuum chamber in the Netherlands to a rocket gantry in French Guiana, Martins’ camera reveals this normally unseen world with the stark clarity for which he is well known. As well as documenting massive structures and sterile labs, he also focuses in on smaller details with similar precision, capturing a moon rock encased in resin and an astronaut’s empty glove reaching skyward.

As the title suggests these photographs aren’t really about space travel, but about its preparation and anticipation. It’s easy to forget that as the complexity of human endeavour increases, the resources required to support these undertakings grow exponentially. For the handful of astronauts who will leave the earth’s atmosphere there are thousands of support staff and dozens of facilities scattered across the globe. The man or woman sealed in a capsule atop a rocket is like the invisibly fine point of a very long spear.

S5 payload preparation complex – spacecraft fuelling bay, CSG-Europe’s Spaceport, Kourou (French Guiana), C-print, 120x150cm, 2014

S5 payload preparation complex – spacecraft fuelling bay, CSG-Europe’s Spaceport, Kourou (French Guiana), C-print, 120x150cm, 2014

The image of a spear however, isn’t just a convenient visual simile for a rocket, the two objects are also inherently linked in ways which are fleetingly visible in Martin’s photographs, and which he briefly acknowledges in his statement about the work. Space programs remain shrouded in great secrecy, and part of the reason is that for all their lofty scientific ambitions and humanitarian rhetoric, they remain closely connected to the militarisation of space. It’s well known that the first launch vehicles were adapted from military rocket technology, but less discussed is the fact that much of today’s space hardware is built by the defence industry, and civilian space facilities are routinely used to prepare and launch military technology. In other words, the immense promise of space exploration was born from and remains entangled with the possibility of human self-destruction.

Viewing these photographs with this thought in mind, their meaning seems to change. No longer a record of an exciting, technologically sophisticated present, instead it starts to feel like Martins has predicted a grim future where super-technology reigns supreme. A place where almost all evidence of the natural world has been scrubbed away, and human figures are present only as featureless automatons, garbed in white as they service the overlord of high technology. The windowless pods of space simulators start to look like grim cells, and the heavy, spiked hatch of an anechoic chamber resembles the padded door of some hideous torture chamber.