I love photo fairs. In just a day or two I can immerse myself in new work, see some classics, meet a few artists, learn something new from an expert and have a great time, all for the price of a movie in a high end theatre. For these reasons and more, photo l.a. this year was a winner.
Founded twenty-five years ago, photo l.a. “continues the discourse on photography’s place in the world of fine art, providing a distinctive platform for the display of everything from vintage masterworks from the 19th and 20th centuries, to contemporary photography”. “After 25 years, our mission remains the same, to unite and support the international community of enthusiasts, collectors, and artists who share our love of photography,” says Claudia James Bartlett, director of photo l.a. “We believe that this is what makes photo l.a. such a unique experience for our participants and guests alike.”
I had the chance to see this year’s exhibition come together and to watch it unfold. Here are some reasons it was a great show.
The Pictures – well of course the pictures. Over forty dealers from around the world showing pictures from every era of photography. One of the things I love about fairs is the chance juxtaposition of artists and styles. No curator would ever put A next to B the way chance will and it’s precisely this element of randomness that lets new associations form in your mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love the curated work you see in the booths too but this is different – your opportunity to make associations and discoveries unmoderated as you step from booth to booth. A fair is much like a bazaar, a giant marketplace with all the special energy that brings.
The Docent Walks – OK then, so how does a person who spends their days looking at photographs professionally see this giant but random assemblage? Each day before the show opened there was an opportunity to walk the floor with a knowledgeable expert and see how they approached the work. This year it was Weston Naef, Photographic Curator Emeritus of the Getty, Ryan Linkof, Associate Curator, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Former Assistant Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, LACMA), Ivan Shaw, Executive Photography Director, Vogue and Paul Martineau, Associate Curator, Department of Photographs, The J. Paul Getty Museum.
P.O.V. Selections From Los Angeles Collections – This was pretty remarkable, photos from the collections of twenty-three high end collectors, all hanging together for a few days. Curated by Brian English it was a wealth of beautiful imagery showing the diversity and depth of the Los Angeles collecting scene.
Scarlet Cheng interviewed each collector to find why their selected photograph was important to them and their comments were included alongside the photographs to provide insight into each collector’s modus operandi.
The Panels – Fifteen panels and roundtables covered rock and roll photography, collecting, Latin American Photography, Robert Mapplethorpe, artist talks with James Welling (honored artist at the gala reception) and Jim McHugh and on and on. In addition to the panels on the art side there were panels for photographers wanting to extend their craft with presentations on Portraiture, Travel photography, Lightroom, inkjet papers and more.
The New Work – Every year photo l.a. sponsors a competition to find ground breaking new work and give unknown photographers and the virtuosos of tomorrow’s photography a place to be seen. This year FOCUS photo l.a. showed the work of twenty emerging photographers. Their work was bright and knowing and you can probably still afford it, you can certainly be inspired by it.
Opening Night – This year the Gala benefited Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. James Welling was the honored guest and had an installation of his new body of work, Choreograph. Opening nights are always fun, a chance to celebrity spot, enjoy the opening night crowd and maybe see something new and wonderful before the rest of the world.
The Chance Encounter – Finally, spending time in an environment like this lends itself to chance encounters, the overheard remark that leads to a conversation, seeing a name on a badge and realizing you are standing with a photographer whose work you admire, the sudden recognition of an old friend. Fairs put a lot of people with similar interests together in an environment that encourages connection, oh, and you get to see a ton of work and remind yourself why you love photography. That’s why I love them.
The REEF/LA Mart (DTLA) in Downtown Los Angeles
Thursday, January 21 – Sunday, January 24, 2016