Photo London is a breathtaking, visual treat which will have photography lovers salivating over the imagery on display in this enormous show.
Hat’s off to the masterminds behind this photography fair for bringing together over 70 galleries and dozens of photographers from across the globe.
It’s a first for London which is aiming to break new ground as a world centre for photography, sparking a city-wide photo week. Even Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London turned up to open the show.
Making a big splash
Photo London intends to make a big splash. There’s something for everybody from historic prints to the leading lights of the photography world like Sebastiao Salgado and Annie Leibovitz.
If you’re looking for new talent, there’s also plenty to admire with a special focus on the work of London photographers.
As I walked through the first corridor of galleries, I had no idea how immense this show was going to be. Sixty rooms of photographs, large and small, new and old, are set to blow your visual mind.
It’s a who’s who of the greats of photography covering a century of imagery from the early works of Henry Fox Talbot, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray to contemporary stars like David Bailey and Martin Parr.
This is photography as art but you can’t get away from the fact that this is also a commercial art fair. Many of the works are for sale but remember to take your platinum credit card because they don’t come cheap!
Although you can grab an up and coming British photographer for as little as £600, many of the works come with hefty price tags. £700,000 for one photograph, anyone?
Then there are many iconic images from David Bowie’s striking Ziggy Stardust and Warhol’s Factory girl, Edie Sedgwick to The Beatles and Twiggy in the Swinging 60s.
Images of life today
Photo London looks back to photography’s roots moving forward to today’s leading stars and drawing in the latest in digital technologies.
Some of my favourite images in the show are simple but full of meaning like the image of a weather station by Jon Tonks featured above. There’s something ominous and unnerving about the weather man despite his science and logical analysis.
I was also struck by this powerful blue and white photograph by Garry Fabian Miller called ‘White in Blue’ which looks all the world like an oil painting from a distance. It has a certain painterly quality conjuring up the art of Mark Rothko and Yves Klein.
Modern twists on old themes can be spotted throughout the Photo London show with surrealist photography being referenced by many of today’s artists.
Depending on where you stand, these works provide a fresh angle or they are pale rip-offs, regurgitating old ideas.
This black and white photograph by Eva Stenram is a case in point. It’s a striking image of a mannequin or a ‘deconstructed’ woman – and very unsettling it is too. It draws heavily on the influence of Man Ray’s Surrealism but gives the image a modern feminist tilt. I like it very much.
Power of the camera
Photography is perhaps at its best when it captures the very essence of a person, landscape or situation. Often, it breaks all the rules – and creates a simple, powerful image that is hard to shake from the head.
I kept on being drawn back to a selection of Chris Killip photographs taken in North East of England in the 1970s and 1980s.
Having lived in this part of the world during those years, perhaps it’s not surprising that these images have a strong resonance for me.
These grainy, black and white snapshots of life on the margins of a fast-disappearing landscape and its people are powerful and raw.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when an exhibition guide giving a private tour of the show to a group of foreigners described this is looking like “centuries ago”. The North East of England doesn’t look like this any more, apparently.
Although largely true, I was tempted to nudge the posh guide on the shoulder and tell her that some run-down areas of Teesside and Tyneside still look like this today! I guess that Chris Killip’s ‘Youth on Wall’ does look almost Dickensian though.
It’s weird but many of the images I liked best in the show were black and white. One of my favourite international photographers was there too – Sebastiao Salgado – with his black and white images of people and landscapes.
These are definitely works I’d pay £700,000 for if I won the Lottery!
The star gallery of the show is Genesis in Platinum by Salgado – which is easy to miss because it’s in the Embankment Wing of Somerset House.
It’s great that Salgado is also being honoured with the inaugural Photo London master of Photography Award as part of the event. Few have captured the human spirit and earth’s landscapes as well as this master of the art of photography.
Portraits and celebrities
At the other end of the photographic spectrum there are plenty of works for lovers of portraiture especially portraits of actors, models and rock stars from Iggy Pop and Philip Seymour Hoffman to Twiggy.
After walking around 35 rooms, I was starting to flag because this show is on multiple floors with dozens of rooms and gallery spaces. I was exhausted!
My advice is to take a break over lunch at the Somerset House’s Tom’s Kitchen and complete the final wing of the show after you’ve topped up your energy levels.
The V & A collection has also got in on the act for Photo London with a gallery featuring highlights from the museum’s photographic archives. There are some real gems here with around 200 prints on display, many with a geographic connection with London and the Thames.
I was also impressed by The Photographers’ Gallery with Maurizio Anzeri‘s mobile of woven faces and Daisuke Yokota’s sculptural prints that creep across the floor.
By the end of my trip I felt like I was suffering from sensory overload – but in a good way. There are undoubtedly many works that aren’t to my taste but that’s’ the thrill of a show like this. The breadth of photography on display is breathtaking.
My only disappointment is that Photo London only runs for four days. Catch it while you can – it’s ace!
Tammy’s Guide – Photo London 2015
Photo London runs from 21-24 May at Somerset House on London’s The Strand. The exhibition is open 12pm until 6/7pm. Admission fee – £20 for adults. The nearest Tubes are Charing Cross and Holborn.
Look out for special events including a talks programme, live DJ sets in the evening in the Deadhouse space, a photobook fair at the Tate Modern and much more off-site.
You’ll need plenty of time as this is an immense show and will take more than an hour to complete, even if you race around the galleries at full speed. Full information for planning your trip on the website – Photo London