FairsGalleries 18-05-2017

Has Photo London (finally) caught up with its Paris counterpart?

After Frieze and 1:54 in London last October, the art world descended once again on the British capital this week for the 2017 edition of Photo London. Running from May 18 through 21, this marks the fair’s third edition at Somerset House.

Not much has changed since the event’s first edition: Photo London remains as ambitious as ever. From the ever-increasing number of exhibitors, to an appealing public program, to the number of collectors that the organizers have attracted—making for a quite diverse audience of buyers—this ambition shines through everywhere. With 89 galleries and 46 first-timers, the event hopes to rival its more established Continental counterpart, Paris Photo. To what extent it achieves this however, is debatable.

Big names such as Victoria Miro and  Sprüth Magers have participated for the first time. However whilst Miro can boast one of the most interesting displays, showing Isaac Julien’s "Looking for Langston" series (also on view at the gallery’s two spaces in London), Sprüth Magers has not taken any risks for its debut at the fair. With works by names such as Stephen Shore, Andreas Gursky or Thomas Ruff, the gallery seems to be catering to its existing collectors, with their (huge) booth bustling with buyers who look to be in their most natural habitat.


Christophe Gaillard Galerie's stand at Photo London. Via the gallery's instagram.


Despite Photo London’s ambition, the fair seems so be developing with very little risk-taking — something made clear by its scheduling at the opposite end of the art world calendar from Paris Photo. The sheer quantity of vintage, fashion and celebrity works is overwhelming. Positioned next to work by stars such as Miles Aldridge, Guy Bourdin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol and Irving Penn, just to name a few, it makes for a very commercial presentation.

A few notable exceptions are: Galerie Christophe Gaillard, with works by Rachel de Joode, Letha Wilson and Kate Steciw, offer an extremely original presentation. Finally curated, the booth grabbed the attention of visitors through an audacious choice of works. On the opposite end of the spectrum, but equally as enjoyable, is the space of Officine dell’immagine, (Milan) which is presenting work by three Iranian artists: Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian and Jalal Sepehr, all exploring identity politics and the question of nationhood. The politically charged themes of the photographs are gently balanced by what can only be defined as a perfect photographic rendition of their subjects, making for one of the fair’s most interesting booths, and one of the most frequented by collectors on preview day.


From the series "Stateless" by Gohar Dashti. Courtesy Officine dell'Immagine.


Unlike other fairs, the organizers have made a serious effort to draw visitors to the Discovery section, if only by placing Taryn Simon’s installation Image Atlas and Magnus Photo’s special exhibition curated by Martin Parr and David Hurn at the two ends of the section dedicated to younger photographers and dealers. The trip downstairs is one worth taking — there, galleries including Raffaella De Chirico Contemporary Art, (Turin), l’étrangere, (London) or else PM/AM (London) have made considerably more courageous choices compared to their more established counterparts.

At Raffaella De Chirico, Pulitzer Prize winner Manu Brabo, alongside documentary photographer Fabio Bucciarelli and Bangkok-based Guillem Valle, explore in war-torn countries such as Libya, Syria or Senegal. They provide a striking testament to the time of global crisis we are living in, reigniting a discourse on today’s political upheavals — something largely forgotten in the upstairs sections of Photo London. “We do what we believe in, and we have seen good results in terms of sales,” comments De Chirico.


Fabio Bucciarelli, A refugee family. (2015) Courtesy Raffaella de Chirico Contemporary Gallery.


L’étrangere has presented a solo show by Anita Witek, consisting of a large scale installation where photography merges with architectural spaces and design, daring to experiment beyond the simple framed photographs on display everywhere. "The installation [...] follows on the artist’s ideas of playing with reality, further destabilising the viewers' position and questioning what is true. We felt it was important to demonstrate that process at Photo London and allow the viewers to experience Witek’s montages in 3-D format", comments gallery director Joanna Mackiewicz-Gemes.


l'étrangere's booth at Photo London. Courtesy the gallery.


Over At PM/AM, Ivar Wigan’s candid shots from the "Young Love" series delve into the everyday lives of minority groups and outcasts, carefully exploring social barriers.


Ivar Wigan, Last Song. (2015) Courtesy PM/AM gallery.


With an impressive number of collectors attending the private view, and deals being closed constantly, Photo London 2017 certainly stands as a success. But have founders Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad managed to cement their fair on the art fair map, rendering it an important destination for international collectors? It seems Photo Paris remains the key event for several gallerists — the majority of whom cite the great appeal the medium continues to have on French collectors. If France is still suffering from a string of unfortunate events — several dealers haven’t returned to Paris Photo since the Paris attacks — the French city still holds the upper hand in the photography fair game.

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