More than one hundred and twenty galleries, one-person shows by Edward Burtynsky, Darren Almond, William Henry Fox Talbot and Bruce Gilden, three new commissions, as well as a programme of twenty-five “talks”, all in four days? The fourth edition of Photo London awaits you at Somerset House in London. Immersion in the heart of the show for one day.
Somerset House is an awe-inspiring and restricting building. The sizes of the different rooms and the practical limitations due to the number of galleries represented (lighting, hanging space, format) put the brakes on creative enthusiasm. The huge number of photographs on display sometimes gives you vertigo and it is true that the risk taken by the gallery owners is small. As a consequence, a uniform vision, monotonous and often not reflecting contemporary photography, emanates from the rooms.
The main themes and the “trends” are firmly fixed in the tour: portraits of nude females adopting classic erotic poses (to the heterosexual masculine eye), several Marylin Monroe and Kate Moss, large scale images inspired by Jeff Wall’s “tableau style”, Polaroids in the style of Nan Goldin, photographs of landscapes or subjects bordering on abstraction (is photography an “Art”? This eternal question… not so much as today photography is “collectable” … ), the scratched surfaces, washed-out, spotted, the swimming pools and seascapes where our eyes try to lose themselves in order to find a little peace and quiet among eight galleries and five cafés. Sorry if the references above are uniquely Anglo-Saxon, but it’s true that, because of the realities of the art market and the holding of the fair in the British capital, the photographs shown at Photo London have a content that is often geographically limited.
It’s difficult to judge more than one hundred and twenty spaces, our own sensitivities (and the lack of time to take in the whole of the fair at one go) as well as our liking or not for the contemporary art market taint the experience. So here is a list of the favorites.
Lovers of music and British fashion? The Beatles and the Rolling Stones are in the Iconic Gallery on the first floor. Some of the displays are judiciously worked out and present a fine overview of different works. Those of the Michael Hoppen and Peter Fetterman galleries (both on the ground floor), as well as Jo Van de Loo (basement) are not to be missed. The Hamiltons Gallery (pavilion) will surprise many with its almost “fetishist” space, very original. A magnificent selection of photographs by the artist Vasantha Yogananthan can be found in the Espace JB (basement).
Enthusiasts for the new technologies will be interested in Edward Burtynsky’s one-man show (basement) and the immersive installation Unwavering Vision #3 located in the west wind of the building. A beautiful collection of books on photography can be seen at the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award (basement). The Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean photographers have pride of place in several galleries and often brilliantly produced displays (see the Akio Nasagawa and the See+ Galleries in the pavilion, the Yumiko Chiba Gallery on the ground floor and that of kana Kawanishi in the basement). Daido Moriyama is a recurrent figure at the fair and his photographs can be admired in the open air, outside the pavilion. One last point: 40 emergent galleries are present at the fair this year, showing many unknown artists (see images of this portfolio). Photo London 2018 has plenty of surprises in spite of its complexities and constraints.
This brief review of Photo London can seem a tiny bit acerbic but let’s remember that in spite of a certain monotony, the quality of the displays, as well as the variety of its public programme (the list of “Talks’ can be consulted on the official website) is to be complimented. Setting up Photo London represents a titanic job and the organization of the fair is so much in the background that it’s easy to forget that it is only its fourth edition. In the hope that the contents of future editions of Photo London will prove to be a little more inventive and diverse, we doff our caps to the Candlestar management team at the heart of this event.
Julie Bonzon is Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University College London (UCL) in the U.K.
Photo London 2018
17th to 20th May 2018
South Wing Strand
WC2R 1LA London