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Photofairs San Francisco, What is Photography Now?


Stepping through the doors of the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion late Thursday afternoon the first thing I see is the light. The building is large, open and lofty with skylights and giant windows that run the length of the building and provide soft fill light everywhere. In late afternoon the sun slants down through the western windows shaping the forms of the booths and adding drama to the last minute preparations for opening night.

I am here for the debut of Photofairs San Francisco, an international art fair dedicated to photography. Thirty-four galleries from fourteen countries and twenty-two cities are participating, showing a broad array of work by artists old and new. In addition to the work in the galleries, the panels, book signings and artists talks, there is an exhibition called Insights: New Approaches to Photography Since 2000 that particularly interests me. It’s not a secret that the art world is overrun with images. Museums are deaccessioning paintings by major artists and the older generation of collectors has filled their walls with a lifetime supply of work. Photography, that most reproducible of mediums, is also facing the questions an endless supply of images raises. Alexander Montague-Sparey co-curator of the exhibition has some thoughts about that question and in the installation section he has chosen to show primarily the work of multimedia artists who are using photography in their work rather than showing traditional photographers working exclusively in the medium. The works he has chosen are largely one-offs, unique pieces rather than editions. The results become evident as you walk around the installation area. For example start with the work of Meghann Riepenhoff who showed prints made using poured cyanotype. One is draped like cloth, laid on a raised platform resting on the floor, not a “picture” in the normal sense but arresting. Another example is Mehedi Abdolkarimi’s print on multiple planed surfaces. It changed with every movement and reflection of the light. I think you get the idea, this was a sophisticated show intended for a sophisticated audience.

Sophistication was evident in the galleries too. M97 Gallery from Shanghai showed the work of Wang Ningde, pieces that depend on directed light from above to cast intricate shadows which made up the image. It’s hard to talk about these things, you see the effects of the photography, the shadows it casts rather than the photo itself. East Wing, a gallery from Dubai showed the work of Jojakim Cortis & Adrian Sonderegger, artists who build elaborate miniatures of famous photographs, then photograph the miniatures while shooting past the boundaries of the original images, showing you the artifice of their work and creating a conspiracy theorists heaven if your mind works that way.

Andriesse Eyck of Amsterdam was showing Lidwein van de Ven’s Cairo, a very large print mounted directly to the wall, referencing the un-removable nature of the posters of the Arab Spring, while Berlin based gallery Camera Work housed a unique collaboration between photographer Michelangelo di Baptista and artist Tina Berning. Di Baptista supplied Berning with one and only one print which Berning was then free to interpret  in any way she wanted to, in this case by scribing and painting lines into the surface of the print outlining the features of the woman photographed  graphic and effective.

There was plenty of traditional beauty too to be sure. Photo 12 Galerie, showed a wonderful Polaroid on gold leaf by Giovanni Gastel, there was an astonishing Sarah Moon Fresson print at Peter Fetterman and an extremely rare and fine Platinum Palladium contact print of Georgia O’Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz hanging at Edwynn Houk. There were many more examples like these showing in the galleries, pictures from around the world. This was a very rich show.

I had a wonderful two days and I would have happily stayed longer. So much of what was beautiful here had to be experienced.  It’s no longer only about framed photographic prints lying flat on the wall. So much of the excitement of photography now is the hundred ways photographers are showing you the physicality of the printed object with tells like curled edges and multiple small prints stitched together to demonstrate the truth that the image is a real thing. In the end I’m afraid I’m leaving out more than I told. There was too much to see and too much to hear, a problem I’m happy to have. A thought though, if you want to see more of the fair than the pictures with this story there is an excellent online catalog which can be referenced at photofairs-san-francisco.

In a sign of their commitment, Photofairs San Francisco has already booked the Mason Center for 2018. I’m marking my calendar to be there.

Andy Romanoff

Andy Romanoff is a photographer and writer based in Los Angeles, USA.

PHOTOFAIRS in San Francisco
January 27-29, 2017
Fort Mason Festival Pavilion
2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123

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