For the second annual Photo-London art fair,
May 19-22, 2005, approximately 50 galleries from around the world set
up shop in the new Royal Academy of Arts annex building in Burlington
Gardens, just around the corner from the Cork Street gallery district.
Launched last year by Danny Newberg, publisher of the London-based Pluk magazine
(and a former New York gallery owner), and supported by an illustrious
advisory committee that includes Christie's photo chief Philippe
Garner, collector Kay Hartenstein Saatchi and
artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Photo-London seems an inevitable reflection
of the city's importance as a global art center.
The fair's attractions included two special exhibitions of contemporary
photography, one organized by Winchester School of Art 2004 sculpture
PhD Kristin Posehn. She selected eight
artists, many of them students, including RA MF candidate Liane Lang, whose
photographs of prosthetic limbs in bourgeois settings are reminiscent of
works by Hans Bellmer and Helmut Newton.
Also among Posehn's choices were a work
by Oslo-based artist Eivind Lentz,
who appropriated examples from an archive of 20,000 mobile phone photos
sent to a Norwegian TV program for on-air display, and a series of urban
landscape photographs by RA student Steffi Klenz, which manage
to make suburban London look like the mythical locations in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.
The fair's second special exhibition was selected by the much-admired
fashion photographer Mario Testino, whose
subjects typically include glamour girls like Elizabeth Hurley and Kate
Moss. Here, however, the Peruvian photographer, who studied in London,
gathered together a group of intellectually rigorous and esthetically understated
works, including two stills from Annika Larsson's
2001 video Dog and a surprisingly awe-inspiring photo collage by Idris Khan with
the self-explanatory title of EveryWilliam Turner Postcard from
Tate Britain, 2004.
Both exhibitions showcased photography at its best and presented
a challenging yet optimistic image of the medium's future. Upstairs, in
a labyrinth of white spaces, was photography's present, which included
top dealers such as Bonni Benrubi (New
York), Galerie Daniel Blau (Munich ) and Howard Greenberg Gallery (New
York) as well as exhibitors like Aperture, Taschen and Getty
Images. Sadly absent were White Cube, Lisson and
other high-profile London dealers.
Photo-London also drew some participants
from far-off precincts, including Gana Art
Gallery from Seoul and Silk Road Gallery from Tehran. "This is the first time an Iranian
gallery is showing in a London air fair," said Anahita Ghabaian-Ettehadieh of
Silk Roads. "There has been widespread recent interest in Iranian culture
throughout London, and I'm surprised that we didn't get a bit more press attention."
Wandering through the fair, a visitor couldn't be
blamed for wishing he or she were outside, enjoying occasional patches of
sunlight and an almost pleasant English weekend. The majority of booths were
stuffed with familiar editorial-size prints, hung salon-style, and the overall
experience was lackluster. But even the most jaded visitor, in search of
the rare, exotic and wonderful, could leave with a few scribbled names or
a cherished memory or two.
For your correspondent, the most fruitful results
were found at either end of the fair's timeline. At Robert Hershkowitz Ltd,
the prestigious London private photo dealer, was Julia Margaret Cameron's
chilling 1867 portrait of Sir John Herschel -- the early photo pioneer
who coined the terms "photography" and "positive" and "negative" -- an image
that is ghostly enough to be a spectre out of Edgar
Likewise compelling was the installation of works by Alex McQuilkin at
the booth of Frankfurt's Galerie Adler.
Said to have once harbored aspirations to be an abstract painter, McQuilkin kicked
off her career in 2000 with the video Fucked, which premiered at New York's Armory Show. In the controversial
tape, the then-19-year-old artist faces the camera in close-up and calmly
applies makeup, while at the same time she is apparently being penetrated
Since then, McQuilkin's brilliantly
bratty work has grown without growing up. The installation at Photo-London
included Test Run, a 2004 video homage to suicidal revenge fantasies
in which the artist sinks below the surface of her bath in a brief and
futile attempt to drown herself, and a series of stills showing McQuilkin thrashing
about in a pink, punk bedroom, her wrists wrapped with blood-clotted cloth.
McQuilkin's most vicious image, and therefore
her funniest, is her comparably calmer Untitled (Will Fuck for Validation) self-portrait,
which features the artist, with a blond bob and tear-streaked cheeks, mimicking Cindy
Sherman mimicking an generic movie starlet, as in her 1981 Artforum spread. McGuilkin's look of tragic glamour is given a self-conscious
twist by the green glitter lettering on her white wife-beater, which reads,
"Will fuck for validation."
One lesson of the fair was that size matters. London's Flowers East gallery showed
several arresting large prints, such as Edward Burtynsky's diptych, Three
Gorges Dam Project, Feng Jie # 3, Yangtze River, China. The photos sold on the fair's opening
night. "There were a small number of buyers," joked Flowers' Sam Chatterton Dickson, "and we flushed them out to have
a good fair."
Similarly, lusciously theatrical photographs that resulted
from a collaboration between the British photographer
and artist Nick Waplington and the Mexican
artist Miguel Calderon, on offer at
the booth of London's Museum 52, did not suffer from the general
sales slump. Priced at £4,000 each, these giddy, bright, incoherent
prints looked like what might happen if Gregory Crewdson overdosed on Prozac. Waplington and
Calderon are clearly an example of what it takes to make a bigger, brighter,
Fashion, celebrity and nudes are evergreen subjects for photography.
Shimmering among the glossy prints at London's Scout Gallery was Mark
Wayland's The Game,an enormous fashion shot of a young
woman contemplating her handbag, which had been transformed in a cascade
of sequins-like disks. The edition was moving briskly at £5,000 per
At Hamburg Kennedy Photographs, a much-reproduced portrait
of Kurt Cobain, taken by Mark Seliger in 1993 for Rolling Stone magazine, was
installed along with one of artist's recent, Stieglitz-style nudes. Several other galleries
also had examples of the same Cobain portrait, available in three different
To the naked eye, however, the popularity prize went to Getty
Images, which presented an extensive group of elegant, arresting
and iconic pictures, tightly stacked together on the walls, with more
in the overflowing print racks and binders. Unabashedly commercial in
its appeal, the booth was consistently packed with viewers, who vied
for vintage shots of charming little French children as well as for devastatingly
cool portraits of slinky Jean Shrimpton and
slick David Hemmings, which ranged in
price from £600 to £1,800.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a critic and PhD candidate in art history at Oxford University.