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  • Victoria Comstock-Kershaw

REVIEW: PHOTO LONDON 2018

I only know about a dozen or so photographers in person. I find them, on the whole, to be either excessively charming or incredibly dull, and the same can be said of their work: I find that photography either enraptures or bores, it excites or it stultifies. Photo London is no exception.



The fourth edition of the international photography fair is far more of an auction than an exhibition, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by people who aren't looking to purchase one of the 200+ artworks presented within the Candlestar-curated exhibit. Previously having been described as a sprawling mess by some and a must-see by others, the experience is priced at a steep £30 per ticket - £23 concession and £19 for children - justifiable if you're planning on dropping a grand on a photograph, but bordering on absurd if you just want to see some impressive pics. Somerset House is, as always, strikingly gorgeous, but somehow doesn't quite fit the fair: the main mezzanine boasts a disjointed showcase of over 200 photographs coming from over 100 different galleries, grouped together in no particular order as a mishmash of styles, artists, eras and mediums. Visitors are guided through seemingly arbitrary collections of photographs, sometimes grouped by form, sometimes by period, often by artist. Fair enough, one might say, it's not meant to be so much an exhibit as a salesroom - but as I am jostled from the modern portraiture of Martin Schoeller to the classics of William Klein and Garry Fabian Miller to the vintage VOGUE archival prints of Charles Jourdan within literal seconds of entering the tent, I can't help but feel as if the business side of the fair has overtaken the basic need of any curated exhibit: that of telling a cohesive story.


Despite all this, the event is home to some seriously impressive pieces. A signed and framed original print of Iain MacMillan's near-legendary Abbey Road photograph leads onto a truly enchanting collection from London based Iconic Images gallery, which hosts a myriad of vintage and archival portraits from the likes of icons Terry O'Neil and Douglas Kirkland. Portraits of stars likes Amy Winehouse, Audrey Hepburn, The Beatles, and Roger Daltrey adorn the section of the tent, offering a glorious look into a world of British glamour, sex and rock-n-rock.





In fact, Photo London's archival collections tends to represent the best of the exhibit: Charles Jourdan's 1977 VOGUE photographs, for example, simply oozed sex, excitement, and originality. Milton H. Greene's large-scale portraits of Marilyn Monroe are cliche in that wonderful way that only photographs of long-dead starlets can be. The "French Capa" of war photojournalism Gilles Caron's exploration of the May 1968 rebellion in Paris (commissioned by School Gallery/Olivier Castaing for its 50th anniversary) remains a definitive and brilliant documentation of the event.

Gilles Caron, Montage of images from the Paris

May ’68 series. Courtesy of School Gallery

Olivier Castaing


However, while the archival collections stand out the most, there are plenty of contemporary hidden gems. Darren Almond's Fullmoon exhibit, presented by White Cube (one of my all time favourite London galleries), is an enthralling nocturnal nature series, the photographs having been taken all over the globe and only lit by moonlight. The works of Tina Berning & Michelangelo Di Battista are wonderfully expressive, as are the ever-hypnotic photographs of Andreas Gefeller.

From left to right, top to bottom: Andreas Gefeller, Helmut Newton, Charles Jourdan, Barbara Cole, Milton H. Greene, Jane Hilton.


Niloufar Banisadr's emotive 2016 Mes Voyages series overlays religious garb onto everything from churches to letters in French to Iranian cloth patterns. Jane Hilton and Stephen Gladieu both offer compelling snapshots of a changing cultural American landscape, and Huxley Parkour's all-female contemporary cast is a delightful and fresh look at the female form.


Huxley Parlour presents from Left to right: Amanda Charchian, Petrina Hicks, Prue Stent x Honey Long


Speaking of the female form, it occurred to me around the thirtieth 'tasteful' nude of the exhibit that none of the women being photographed appeared to own any clothes. Hamilton's darkened corner of the main tent presented visitors with a selection of photographs of women in positions that would make even the most patient of feminists roll their eyes, including the spectacular Eiffel Tower photograph by Helmut Newton, which previously sold for a whopping $32,500 USD. I will give Photo London the benefit of the doubt and say this is a reflection of a larger problem within the photography community rather than just bad curatorship; the gender divide of photographers was about 50:50, even if their naked subjects were mostly (read: all, expect for a single Herb Ritz photograph) women.

Overall, the event was a little underwhelming, especially for the price. There are some impressive pieces, sure, but a lot of the work feels like its just filling space. There's little cohesion in the main tent, and the overbearing salespeople make it very hard to actually sit back and enjoy a photograph for more than 30 seconds. It's a shame, especially considering the venue, and even outside the mezzanine, the coffee shops and beer stalls (although both very good in their own respect) feel random, disjointed (that, and there weren't enough tables or seats). A lot can be forgiven due to the nature of the event - an art fair is not an art museum, after all - but I feel that the commercial aspect did not necessarily have to overshadow the artistic side. Unfortunately, it did, making the overall experience feel slightly rushed, especially within the main tent, where those of us who were not looking to purchase were made to feel unwelcome and slightly awkward as we tried to enjoy and examine the photographs. That being said, if you've got thirty quid and an afternoon to spare, I won't tell you not to visit: the satellite events like Darren Almond's Fullmoon or the charity display Photography on a Postcard are well worth a look, and if you don't mind the high-strung atmosphere of the main tent there are some wonderful photographs to be seen.


I leave you with my personal favourite of the entire exhibit: Sacha Goldberger (best known for his fantastic re-imagination of superheroes as Medieval noblemen) and his SECRET EDEN EVE 3882 series, a retro-futuristic exploration of gender, lust, and fairytales.


SECRET EDEN EVE 3882, Sacha Goldberger


Photo London takes place from 17 - 20 May 2018 at Somerset House. Tickets are on sale at photolondon.org