There’s nothing making quite as big a visual splash this spring as the massive Photo London 2018 show at Somerset House.
This annual photography art and trade show showcases the best of the past, present and the future of international photography. Now in its fourth year, it has grown into a essential event for anyone interested in creative photography.
Here are my highlights from this year’s impressive show which takes place from 17-20 May, 2018 in London.
If I had to recommend one photographer at Photo London this year, it would have to be Canadian master Edward Burtynsky and his superb landscapes.
His stunning large format canvases chronicle man’s impact on our planet and take in everything from copper mining in Canada and salt panning in India to rampant oil bunkering in the Niger delta.
Burtynsky is an environmental photographer and warns us that “our species is now having a similar effect to that of an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs”. It’s a sobering thought.
This is a photographer clearly at the top of his game who pushes the boundaries of contemporary photography with his timeless and direct imagery.
Although these are undeniably works of beauty and brilliance, they also show us a darker side – man’s despoilation of the natural environment across the globe.
They are powerful and tragic, especially for future generations who will have to deal with the consequences of these landscape disasters.
For those who enjoy interactive art, there’s even an Augmented Reality experience by Burtynsky which you can download on your phone of iPad to get a richer visual experience.
There’s plenty to admire for lovers of abstract imagery including one of my favourites, Caleb Charlan’s Orange Battery which glows with energy.
The glut of art at Photo London makes it hard to pick out key pieces because the multiplicity of works vye with each for attention. It’s almost a case of visual overload on occasion as you walk through the dozens of gallery spaces.
This year’s show seems to have grown even bigger, covering several floors and basements of Somerset House as well as satellite sites and a large marquee. Keen to make its mark, Photo London is a great mix of the old and new with abstract pieces rubbing shoulders with more conventional works.
Landscape photography at Photo London is well represented by a series of spectacular works by Darren Almond, presented by White Cube.
These evocative works are meditations on time, place and memory… and their large format makes them powerful records of some of the world’s most remote places.
Elsewhere there are classic American landscapes by Ansel Adams which remain timeless whilst some new perspectives are provided by artists from China, Mexico and India.
Perhaps more conventional but equally striking is this lovely photograph of a young boy on a surf plank by Ellen Kooi Meer which ripples with visual effects.
It has a strange, enigmatic quality and poses unanswered questions about why a dynamic object like a surf board is so static and still.
Photography and Politics
In a time of uncertainty and conflict around the world, it’s good to see that Photo London has acknowledged the power of photography to enlighten us and generate debate.
Staring with an excellent display centring on pioneering political photographer Gillles Caron’s 1968 Paris riots, there is some excellent work from more contemporary photographers.
A room of stunning imagery looks at the impact of terrorism in the Middle East. The Iranian photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi has recreated a series of devastating scenes which are shocking and visceral, from images corpses of bombings to the aftermath of terrorism attacks.
Each work is a reconstruction of historical events based on archive and news reports. They are hard-hitting and fantastically powerful.
The ‘Exit from Paradise’ part of the show brings together works by five artists from Japan and Korea who use photography as a way of exploring race, gender and politics as well as the impact of capitalism on East Asia.
What an excellent addition to the Photo London show this is… and I’d welcome more of this in future shows. The stand-out photographer for me is Arko Date with his images of remote island people and bathers in the Ganges delta. Both communities are faced with severe challenges because the delicate balance of nature is under threat.
Similarly impressive is the Daido Moriyma pavilion which captures Japan’s societal upheaval and cultural shifts.
For lovers of the history of photography there is a great back catalogue of works by Norman Parkinson, Terry O’Neill, Chris Killip and many more 1960s and 70s icons.
It’s wonderful to recall the classic images of this period, even if they’ve been seen many times before… from Audrey Heburn and Roger Daltrey to Deborah Harry and Bob Dylan. There’s also a strong selection of rare Marilyn Monroe stills by Milton H. Greene.
The highlight of the archive collection has to be the Sun Pictures ‘Then and Now – Talbot and his Legacy’ show which extends across a dark basement with a brilliance that shines through the gloom.
It’s a cool idea to bring together a series of photographers from periods 150 years apart to demonstrate the evolution of photography as an art form… and see how Talbot’s legacy lives on today.
William Henry Fox Talbot was the British inventor of photography and there’s a chance to see his vintage prints alongside contemporary artists who have been inspired by his work and techniques.
Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of the stand-out photographers whose work buzzes with creative forces like electricity as in this piece called ‘Talbotised’, a direct nod to the great pioneer.
Art for everyone
To say that there is something for everyone in the Photo London is a bit of an under-statement. The works range from the more artistic end of the spectrum to more commercial collections and historic archives.
The crowds thronged around the 1960s classic collections of pop and film stars including a selection of Bond related images which are now highly collectable.
But still I find myself drawn to modern favourites like Sebastiao Salgado whose work never fails to amaze and astonish, notably this dramatic photo of penguins on the South Sandwich Islands.
Photo London 2018 is a massive exhibition which deserves to be a huge success… and judging by the numbers jostling to see the works, it’s proving to be huge hit with the public as well as collectors of photography.
It is beautifully presented in a great series of galleries and rooms strung out around Somerset Houses’ courtyard and in its labyrinthine basement. The joy of this event is that you can duck and dive through the collections, focusing on what really lights your artistic fire.
My only criticism of the show is that it’s only on for a few days because the contributing galleries can’t string out their stalls much longer than that.
And there are still too many ‘erotic’ images of women being fetishised in photography which border on ‘soft porn’. I’m no prude but please… in the ‘Me Too’ era, you’d think that some photographers would stop producing this kind of objectified female imagery en masse.
But this shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a fabulous show. I love the big nod to political photography and diverse cultures in this year’s exhibitions.
Long live Photo London!