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.
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.
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.
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