Photo-London provides a remarkable opportunity to see thousands of photographs across the whole range of photographic history. There is an atmosphere of camaraderie around: international dealers can meet the public, from visiting curators to first-time purchasers (prices start from £100), and photographers talk about their work to anyone who shows an interest. ‘Photo-London contributes to a revival of photography in London,’ says acclaimed British photographer Martin Parr, ‘and it gives the public the opportunity to buy prints at all prices.’
There are even surprises for those already knowledgeable about photography. Photographs that have previously been seen only in books or magazines appear as large-scale objects, visual and architectural presences. It gives me, as a photography curator in London, the opportunity to see both antiquarian and contemporary art photography, which would be difficult in a traditional art fair. Sarah Bright, the National Portrait Gallery’s curator of photography, sees Photo-London as ‘a time when I can catch up with dealers all in one place and find out what is selling and why’.
Aside from featuring work by established photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Massimo Vitali, Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe, Photo-London provides a snapshot of recent trends and emerging talent. Over the last five years, photographers have used vastly different kinds of subject matter and a wide range of approaches. The detritus of the urban landscape and everyday life is still fascinating emerging photographers, as are the interrogation of the past and an interest in archives.
Photographers have become increasingly interested in constructing their own reality. For instance, Anne Hardy (6), a Royal College of Art graduate, has produced a series in which she creates scenes in her studio, producing eerie configurations of everyday life. Recently shown at the Laing Arts Gallery in Newcastle, Hardy is a photographer who seems set to produce a powerful body of work in the future.
Simon Robertshaw’s urban landscapes, which capture the minutiae of the city, and the spare scenes from ordinary London life, by Stephen Gill (5), have both presented audiences with an understated and wry vision of life in twenty-first century Britain. Documentary portraiture by photographers such as Gareth McConnell and Bettina von Zwehl (1) continues to interrogate the notion of the photographic likeness, and collaborations such as that between photographer Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp (3), the musician behind lauded electro band Goldfrapp, have opened up new possibilities for artists from different disciplines to work together.
Fox and Goldfrapp were brought up near the small town of Alton in Hampshire and met through their shared interest in music — Goldfrapp was a member of a local punk band, Fox an emerging photographer who took pictures of the band. They discovered a mutual fascination with the story of Sweet Fanny Adams, a child who had been brutally murdered in Alton in the nineteenth century. They conceived a photo series called ‘Country Girls’ (published later this year in the new Fox monograph), in which they set up scenarios from young women’s lives in the semi-rural landscape of southern England. It is a menacing and suggestive set of photographs, dwelling on death, accident and desire, for which Goldfrapp posed.
Also interesting is a new group of photographers emerging from Eastern Europe, including Alnis Stakle (2), who showed in 2005 at Modern Art Oxford. Stakle’s austere small-scale black-and-white photographs of the ruined interiors of Latvian factories are mysterious and seductive. Combining documentary methods that evoke nostalgia for a photographic past, with a contemporary outlook, Eastern European photographers have a purity of style and vision as yet uncomplicated by market demands.
From the USA, a photographer quickly gaining recognition on the gallery circuit is Florida-based Colby Katz (4), whose series on junior beauty queens was exhibited at the Foam museum in Amsterdam in 2004. Like many emerging photographers, Katz looks behind the public exterior to interrogate contemporary society.
2006’s Photo-London brings to our attention new and challenging photographic artists in an atmosphere of shared interest in, and commitment to, photography as a distinct medium. By placing the contemporary in juxtaposition with photography’s canon, Photo-London helps viewers to appreciate emerging photography in its proper context.