Home Arts Photo London’s new director promises to ’embrace the new’ – so why does it look the same?

Photo London’s new director promises to ’embrace the new’ – so why does it look the same?

by godlove4241
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The eighth edition of Photo London, the UK’s largest photography fair, returns to Somerset House (until May 14). And, again, it comes with a new director. Now that title is held by Kamiar Maleki, the former director of the Contemporary Istanbul and Volta fairs, the latter of which has editions in Basel and New York. In his introductory speech at yesterday’s preview, he promised big things. His goal, he said, is to “bring quality back to the fair.” It involves “respecting the tradition” of photography while “embracing the new” – does this year indeed offer new frontiers, or more of the same?

“After three very difficult years,” according to its founder, Michael Benson, the fair will feature offerings from 125 galleries from 56 cities, with an increasing focus on China and East Asia following the sale of Benson and his co-founder, Fariba Farshad. a 25% stake in Creo Arts, which manages Shanghai Photofairs. Benson views Maleki’s appointment as a coup, describing him as a “brilliant” addition.

Maleki’s comments spoke to the tension at the heart of Photo London. With its Discovery section, the fair has often tried to position itself as the place to acquire the cutting edge of contemporary photography, in particular after the disappearance in 2020 of Unseen, the photography fair in Amsterdam. This sets it apart from Paris Photo, the world’s largest photography fair, which reigns supreme over 19th century and vintage equipment, and from the New York gallery scene which traditionally holds a solid monopoly on this. concerning the modern classics of the 20th century.

So, does he keep that promise?

Since Photo London returned in 2017, it’s sometimes felt too well-grooved. The same work on the walls, the same merchants who pour the champagne, the same characters who walk around. At first glance, the 2023 iteration of the show suffers the same fate. The walls of the fair’s main section offer countless Peter Lindbergh-esque studies of the female form; arched backs, angular limbs and hard looks. Resellers always refer to the “Moss Index”, the number of photos of Kate Moss that have sold. Countless pictures of leopards or elephants or whispering birds hang nearby. Atlas Gallery in London is selling oversized prints by Nick Brandt, including, nauseatingly, a heavily fictionalized photo of a Bolivian child posing next to a monkey, for £4,920.

Vogue USA, Santa Monica, California, 1988 © Peter Lindbergh, courtesy Ira Stehmann Gallery/Photo London

Despite all the steps taken by museums, fashion houses and agencies to embrace the ideas of diversity, inclusion and representation, fairs like Photo London can serve as a reminder that the age of photography Lindbergh and Brandt, who for many in the business now seem very outdated. – is still very much alive on the market. This stuff sells.

But, further on, the fair begins to reveal itself. In the Discovery section, we quickly come across Gaotai Gallery, the first contemporary art gallery located in Xinjiang, China. The booth is dedicated to the work of Chinese photographer Hailun Ma, whose work includes intimate portraits of Uyghur Chinese, taken over the past five years. In the UK, it’s easy to underestimate the risks a photographer takes working like this in China; it is here, in places like Photo London, that the work can be exhibited without risk of censorship or worse.

Picture © Hailun-Ma, courtesy Gaotai Gallery/Photo London

Fiumano Clase, the London gallery, serves to demonstrate how photography is an early adopter of artificial intelligence. The exhibition features a series of intriguing works by emerging British artist Sam Burford, including an AI-created cameraless portrait of classic Hollywood actress Ingrid Bergman; a ghost in the machine. Burford, a doctoral candidate at the Chelsea School of Art, also created abstract expressionist works by photographing, with long exposure, entire feature films; A Clockwork Orange, The Empire Strikes Back, Mulholland Drive. These intertextual, culture-averse works seem like a good investment, starting at £12,000.

At the Nikon stand, visitors can view the works of London-based photographer Max Miechowski, winner of Photo London’s 2022 Emerging Photographer Award. to show. Miechowski may need to further develop a sense of conceptual and thematic rigor, but the individual images featured here demonstrate what a skilled image maker he is. If you’re interested in pure beauty, Miechowski is a safe bet.

For the first time, the Ian Parry Photojournalism Fellowship took a stand at Photo London. The charity was established in memory of Ian Parry, the much-loved photojournalist who was killed 32 years ago while covering the conflict surrounding the Romanian Revolution. The grant is overseen by Tristan Lund, a former Discovery Section curator, who successfully raised £250,000 in philanthropic funds over the past two years, and thus re-established the grant as one of the most important awards for a young photojournalist. can win. On sale are small works by past scholarship recipients, including Jonas Bendiksen, Simon Roberts, Rasha Al Jundi and Matt Eich. The works are available for as little as £50, with all funds supporting the resurgent charity.

Upstairs, the Los Angeles gallery Fabrik Projects has dedicated its stand to the work of Californian artist Jessie Chaney. He stood out. Chaney works in the legacy of the New Topographics – photographers like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shore. But Chaney’s images have a richness not always apparent in the cooler works of Shore and Baltz. Chaney focuses on abandoned spaces that still retain a sense of presence; they are ambient and powerful works, inviting you to enter them.

Mother and Child, Moreton Shore © Ken Grant, courtesy of the Center for British Photography/Photo London

Towards the upper end of the market, the Michael Hoppen Gallery presents, in salon style, a stunning assortment of Japanese photography from the To provoke time. Original prints by Tetsuya Ichimura, Kikuji Kawada and Nobuyoshi Araki never fail to fascinate. Although an original print from the series of Masahisa Fukase Excerpt from The Solitude of the Crows (1986) is perhaps the best price here, at £28,000.

Downstairs in the larger of Somerset House’s two Embankment Galleries, one can find a partial retrospective of the work of Martin Parr, the anointed master of photography for 2023. Few would argue that Parr doesn’t deserve such a distinction – Benson described him as “the Godfather of Photography” when introducing the show. He photographed the British Isles for over 50 years, creating what he calls an “inventory of the nation”.

Parr also did much to raise the profile of other documentary photographers capturing Britain during the same period. Prints from documentary photographers like Ken Grant, Chris Killip, Tony Ray-Jones and Markéta Luskacová are available in many different galleries across the fair, their established market, in part thanks to the work Parr has done to raise their profile after years of relative obscurity.

Picture © Shirley Baker, courtesy British Center for Photography/Photo London

In front of Parr’s work is Write your own screenplay, a show centered on unsung British female photographers. The work is taken from gallerist and collector James Hyman, who successfully opened the Center for British Photography in Jermyn Street, London, in the summer of 2022. The exhibition looks at active women photographers from the 1930s to the present day , and focuses on two strands: how a female gaze overlaps with the broader humanist documentary tradition, and how female photographers have explored personal issues through more performative practices.

The documentary element of the show is strong. Shirley Baker, the Manchester housewife who will surely be remembered as one of the best photographers the UK has ever created, deservedly takes pride of place. But the works of other great street photographers like Edith Tudor-Hart, Grace Robertson, Dorothy Bohm are also skilfully brought into dialogue with each other. The works of each photographer are for sale if you look for them around the fair. Each would make a worthwhile investment; they will no longer be forgotten.

Finger, 2015 © Maisie Cousins, courtesy TJ Bouting/Photo London

But the show is less certain as it heads into the present. Of course, a platform of contemporary female photography is welcome, but why are some chosen and not others?

Maisie Cousins, Heather Agyepong, and Juno Calypso have plenty of space here, and each deserves to be included. But how about Adama Jalloh, Ronan McKenzie, Nadine Ijewere or Gabby Laurent? Each has created consistently over the best part of a decade; Ijewere, for example, was the first black British photographer to photograph a British vogue blanket. Each has a body of work that fits perfectly into the context of this exhibition. And yet they are not there.

As always, art seems defined by its custodians. Very often, at a fair like this, the excluded are as commercially important as the included.

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