Photo London 2016 at Somerset House
Photography seems to be having a moment. Major photography shows have opened recently at most of London’s big museums, including Tate Britain, the V&A, Tate Modern and the Barbican Centre. As an art form, photography has never been more fashionable, and the team behind Photo London are right to capitalise on this. The result is a fantastic opportunity to discover work by international photographers old and new.
Although only in its second year, Photo London pitches itself as the “largest ever photography event to take place in the UK.” It’s a justifiable claim, since the fair features 85 galleries from around the world, and has taken over every corner of the enormous Somerset House. At first, Photo London feels a bit overwhelming. Photographs float everywhere, framed, suspended, clipped and pinned to walls. However, if you’re willing to speed through some of the less interesting galleries, there’s something to please everyone, from the very early days of photography to cutting-edge conceptual work.
In the West Wing, galleries Hans P Kraus and Photography at Quaritch are showing some stunning works by the early photographic masters, including William Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll. This is an opportunity to see first-class Victorian photography up close, a rare experience outside the museum.
At the other end of the spectrum, the “discovery” section on the mezzanine floor includes fascinating work by contemporary photographers who are pushing the boundaries of the medium. Galerie DIX9 is showing three artists from different countries whose work questions the materiality of the photograph. Leyla Cardenas, for example, combines multiple versions of the same photo, each incised with different holes, to create a layered and three-dimensional image of an abandoned building, in an attempt to challenge the notion of photography as a static and atemporal medium.
In the next room, Roman Road Gallery is showing work by Antony Cairns. Cairns’ practice explores the processes of photographic reproduction and printing, from collotypes (a printing method popular in the Victorian era) to works displayed on hacked e-book readers and prints made using a cutting-edge technique utilising electrophoretic ink from electronic screens. The results are beautiful, deeply considered images that ask incisive questions about the condition of photography today.
This year, Photo London has gone above and beyond what is usually expected of an art fair. There is a timetable of talks packed with interesting speakers including Nick Knight, Edmund de Waal and Martin Parr. There are also several exhibitions and installations, such as a beautifully presented display of work by the acclaimed photojournalist Don McCullin. Elsewhere, visitors will be able to sample delights from Martin Parr’s Real Food Van, where the artist will be serving up meals based on his iconic series of food photography.
If you’re interested in photography, Photo London is a must-see. The quality, on the whole, makes it worth the hefty ticket price. Nowhere else will you find so many galleries, photographers, talks and exhibitions in one place: don’t miss out.
Photos: Erol Birsen
Photo London is at Somerset House from 19th until 22nd May 2016, for further information visit here.