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Photo London in Five Acts

Eight months after the previous iteration, which was postponed till the fall due to the pandemic, the art fair Photo London returns to Somerset House from May 12 to 15. Bringing together 106 exhibitors from 18 countries, the fair picks up its pre-Covid momentum. The online version, in its 3rd edition, is here to stay, however, and will extend the fair until May 29. True to itself, Photo London covers the entire history of the photography, from the 1850s through the present, with an emphasis on eclecticism, from reportage to fashion to conceptual photography. Blind proposes five pathways through the fair.

Blade of Light for Alexander McQueen, 2004 © Nick Knight
Blade of Light for Alexander McQueen, 2004 © Nick Knight

Fashion 

More than any other photo fair in the world, Photo London gives pride of place to fashion, both by the choice of exhibiting galleries and through themed programming created by the fair’s co-founders and organizers, Fariba Farshad and Michael Benson. This year is no exception, with a spotlight on two iconic figures in the genre, Frank Horvat and Nick Knight. 

Born 30 years apart, they represent two eras and two styles. Each has left his mark on fashion photography as well as the history of the medium at large. The exhibition dedicated to Frank Horvat (1928–2020) is a tribute to his 1950s’ and 1960s’ work in black and white. It brings together some of Horvat’s iconic portraits, made in the streets of New York, London, and Paris—such as Monique Dutto exiting the metro in 1959, done for Jardin des Modes—alongside his images of Paris by night, including his reportage shot behind the scenes at the Sphinx, a strip club in the Pigalle district. 

Ulysses & Martine, 1988 © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Peter Fetterman gallery
Ulysses & Martine, 1988 © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Peter Fetterman gallery
Monique Dutto, 1959, Paris, France © Frank Horvat
Monique Dutto, 1959, Paris, France © Frank Horvat

The exhibition “Future”, on the other hand, dedicated to Nick Knight, screams color. It speaks volumes about this English photographer, a free spirit who excelled in many areas: fashion, portraiture, still life, and landscape. Taking a cue from Knight’s unclassifiable, colorful aesthetic, the journey through his work, from the 1980s to the present, combines photographic prints, videos, installations, and even sculptures. It is an opportunity to revisit some of his most iconic images, such as his series from the 1990s and 2000s made for Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, as well as to discover new pieces created especially for the fair.

Emerging artists

From year to year, Photo London has paid increasing attention to emerging artists in its Discovery sector, dedicated to galleries less than 5 years old and featuring the younger generation. This year’s fair, curated by Tim Clark, editor-in-chief of the online magazine 1000 Words, makes a big step forward. Under the heading Photography Breaking Boundaries, a special section of the Discovery sector offers a glimpse into the future of the medium with interactive installations, sculptures, and NFTs. Examples: Carlos Aguirre’s Metagraphs, on view at the Mexican gallery Almanaque, straddles photography, design, and sculpture; and Rodrigo Valenzuela’s landscapes, showcased by the Euqinom Gallery (San Francisco), hover between the real and the virtual.

Metagrafía © Carlos Aguirre / Galerie Almanaque
Metagrafía © Carlos Aguirre / Galerie Almanaque

Timeless classics

Rewinding to the golden age of photography, the Peter Fetterman Gallery (Santa Monica) gathers 120 classics in a book entitled The Power of Photography (ACC Art Books). This collection is the result of a reflection carried out during the lockdown, with Peter Fetterman publishing on his website an image a day accompanied by a personal comment or a quotation. Like the one by Lillian Bassman: “When I photograph, I project what I am not. What I would like to be.” 120 iconic as well as lesser-known images offer a beautiful lesson in photography created by giants in the field: Eve Arnold, David Bailey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Sarah Moon, Marc Riboud, Sebastião Salgado, Sabine Weiss… 

Foggy Night, San Francisco, CA, 1953 © Fred Lyon / Peter Fetterman Gallery
Foggy Night, San Francisco, CA, 1953 © Fred Lyon / Peter Fetterman Gallery

Ukraine

Responding to current events, some exhibitors are expressing their support for Ukraine. For example, the Alexandra de Viveiros Gallery (Paris) showcases historical photographers from the Kharkiv School, covering the 1970s through 2010. These include surprising black-and-white photographs by Roman Pyatkovka and beautiful hand-painted prints by Viktor & Sergiy Kochetov. This Parisian gallery and Warsaw-based Ilex are also starting a fundraiser to support the artists and their families. The Sprüth Magers (London) and David Zwirner (New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong) galleries present the work of some great figures, such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia and his series made in Odessa in the late 1990s. The money raised will be donated to organizations working for Ukraine.

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965 © Neil Leifer / Peter Fetterman Gallery
Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965 © Neil Leifer / Peter Fetterman Gallery

Solo shows

Like any photography fair worthy of the name, Photo London also offers the opportunity to discover some oeuvres at greater length thanks to a number of solo shows. These range from seasoned photographers, such as Edward Burtynsky at the Flowers Gallery (London), to emerging ones, like Alia Ali nominated by the public for a prize at the 2021 fair. Let’s not forget the Goodman Gallery (London, Cape Town, Johannesburg) which presents a journey through the work of Mikhael Subotzky, including his collaboration with Patrick Waterhouse for the Ponte City series. 

Devon Aoki for Alexander McQueen, 1997 © Nick Knight
Devon Aoki for Alexander McQueen, 1997 © Nick Knight

Photo London, Somerset House, London. May 12 to 15, 2022
Photo London Digital, May 11 to 29, 2022

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