In the art world, more is often more–bigger scale, bolder ambition and boffo prices to match–but this year's AIPAD exhibition proved that the familiar less-is-more dictum still holds true to a fair degree. Held for the second year at New York's sprawling Pier 94 space on April 5-8, The New York Photography Show's 38th annual edition featured a few dozen fewer exhibitors than in 2017, but reportedly held firm to last year's record attendance of about 15,000, all resulting in a better traffic flow, more breathing room and a less exhausting viewing experience.
Indeed, what a difference a year makes: 2017's show folk seemed in shock so soon after the US Presidential election, which inhibited sales in a broad way, but this year a progressive determination was evident in the emphasis on photographic art that addressed the issues energized by the Trump era: immigration, race, gender inequality. The 96 major photo exhibitors seemed generally pleased with the palpable energy, the heightened interest and the purchasing will of those on hand.
If anything, this year's show exuded a centrality in terms of classic photography–spanning the vintage works of the 19th century to the breakthroughs of modernism, with contemporary takes on everything from daguerreotype to what digital can really achieve–and live discussions with journo-photo-curatorial masters from Susan Meiselas to Edward Burtynsky, Tina Barney, Keith Davis and Teju Cole; books signings by the likes of Elliott Erwitt; and a few special exhibitions that continued to brand the show as museum-quality, despite its commercial emphasis. With more than 14 countries and 49 cities represented, the pulse of photography felt vibrantly alive, as woke as anything on or off the aesthetic street.
This was powerfully evident at the large special exhibition which centered the floor space with its absorbing and aggressive theme: "All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party," as curated by Michelle Dunn Marsh of the Photographic Center Northwest. Showcasing contemporary artists influenced by the '60s black power movement, the exhibit proved how the wordless metaphysic of photography can potently address cultural experience. Carrie May Weems's 2017 video, "People of a Darker Hue," testified to the raw beauty of pigmentation, while Kris Grave roared silently through four photos of the naked, post-mortem sites where Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Eric Garner were killed by police in recent years.
"All Power" easily overshadowed the celebrity pull of the show, which hardly lacked big-name power. Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Chris Rock, Riz Ahmed, the Lauders, Arthur Tress, Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor, among many of the elite, were on hand at some point during the four days. Elton John curated a special exhibition, "A Time for Reflection," with work from AIPAD member galleries, but it seemed random and tossed-off compared with "Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography," which reminded viewers that childhood and adolescence are fraught, yet vital subjects for photography.
As for the dealers, contemporary work made the usual big claims on attention, with giant digital-enabled prints, but never at the expense of the foundational power of vintage and modern classicism. For example, the Bruce Silverstein Gallery, of New York, overpowered the senses with Marjan Teeuwen's 2011 "Destroyed House," a large-scale image of intersecting stone slabs fashioned (or, more accurately, deconstructed) by the artist as if bombed from within. Pure textural ravishment, but just as important as a reference to a nearby Aaron Siskind 1954 close-up of granite rock in Martha's Vineyard, while a Man Ray two-faced image on another wall reminded us of the vintage origins of photo-surrealism.
Importantly, Man Ray's influence and enduring style were on display at Alex Novak's Contemporary Works/Vintage Works booth, where three big Rayographs–actually, unique copy silver prints made in large exhibition format by Man Ray in about 1960 for his last major lifetime traveling museum show--dominated the wall, as if to challenge the scale of contemporary efforts. Novak noted that while the Man Ray Rayographs—both large and small—currently remained unsold, he did have considerable interest in the pieces during the show from both institutional and private sources.
As usual, Novak's offerings balanced the old and new, with a wall of Charles Aubry's fruits and flowers from 1864, and compelling examples of 20th-century modernism in prints by Kertesz, Brassai, Bravo, Sudek and others. Other walls featured rare early 19th-century calotype landscapes and a series of Hippolyte Bayard 1847 family portraits. A fine vintage print of the famed Winston Churchill portrait by Yousef Karsh of Ottawa–Winnie's glowering visage caused by Karsh grabbing his trademark cigar from his hand–bore a red "Sold" dot over its price, although an even larger, but later Karsh of Hemingway remained available from the same wall.
"Things are a bit better than last year," Novak commented. "It seems the farther we get from Election Day 2016, the better. People were still wandering around in shock last year. Now, they are really engaging with the work. Curators and individual buyers are awake to the reality of the market–especially the fact that good vintage work dwindles in availability as contemporary work fills some of the vacuum. But posterity hasn't judged it as thoroughly, so we're at an interesting inflection point.
"This year in a smaller booth we sold considerably more than we did during last year's fair, when we took a very large booth upfront. Last year's sales results were admittedly one of our poorest in the 18 years that we've done AIPAD," Novak continued, "but I attribute that more to the national schisms that have proven such a distraction, particularly in our market. It helped to have pre-show interest in several pieces this year, including a large magical exhibition print by Harry Callahan, which was bought by a lovely French couple, who have been attending our Paris Photo dinner for years. They even added on a great Bisson Frères mountain landscape. Having a selection from our bins this year also helped both clients to find good pieces and us to make sufficient sales (about 20 photographs in all). It's a distinction that has always made AIPAD the most important show for serious collectors—the ability to have such a great selection of vintage work on offer."
Where vintage and contemporary blend is always a hallmark of AIPAD's appeal. Probably the best example: Lisa Sette's Phoenix, AZ, gallery utilized its compact exhibit space to showcase the work of Vietnamese-American Binh Danh, whose misty "Ghosts of Khmer" images are shot as daguerreotypes, their mirrored surfaces reflecting our own faces as they address the 20th-century history of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide, along with the timeless Buddhist imagery of the country.
"Binh Danh chose this in response to the times we live in," said Sette. "It's for us not to forget, and since the medium is daguerreotype, you are a participant, there's complicity. At the same time, life in the Buddhist mind is regenerative." The work was not lost on the many attendees who spent time with the small-scale treasures.
A larger contingent of international galleries was on hand this year as well, and the less-is-more theme seemed to play out with such first-time exhibitors as MEM Inc. of Tokyo, Japan. Its booth featured the great post-World War II photo-journalism of Gen Otsuka (who died in 1992), with a striking emphasis on Otsuka's experimental work–the dreamlike "Snow Fantasy" (of which Steichen purchased examples for MOMA), and "Mt. Fuji Above the Waves," a fantasia derived from three negatives combined to depict Japan's emblematic mountain as if it stood on the nation's ocean shore.
"Lots of attention from visitors," said the gallery's Mizuho Takahashi. "This is the first time many of them have seen his work." Proof enough that AIPAD can open eyes to important photography, sparking strong associations.
The nearby Weinstein Hammons Gallery of Minneapolis offered the large-format chromogenic prints of Erik Madigan Heck, whose posed images of "The Absorbed Tradition," featuring models in traditional Asian garb, their faces averted, suggested the cultural distances we must continue to traverse. Martin Weinstein told us that the gallery had a successful exhibition, selling numerous prints by Heck and others in their stable of artists, such as Alec Soth and Paolo Ventura. After the fair, Leslie Hammons noted that the follow-up sales have also been very strong.
The marriage of vintage, modern and contemporary is always a factor in the eclectic displays of the Stephen Daiter Gallery, of Chicago. It ranged this year from Kertesz prints to the photographic realism and American stamp of W. Eugene Smith ("A Walk in the Paradise Garden") and Robert Frank (a stunning 1956 image of a café in Beaufort, South Carolina), a 1947 Ruth Orkin series of children playing cards, a wall of Kenneth Josephson's 1965 street-march photojournalism, and a contemporary series of large and soulful Polaroid studies of an African-American girl, "Lisa," by Dawoud Bey. Unsurprisingly, a classic Diane Arbus image of a "Flower Girl at Wedding" bore a red "Sold" dot over its price. And perhaps surprisingly, so did a conceptual piece by Keith Smith.
"The show looks better, the quality of the art's better this year," said Daiter. "There's a better flow to it, more international work. What I'm happy about is that this show let's us be true to our roots as collectors and dealers of classic photography, and to see the show generate so much interest in the classics can make you bullish on the market. Dollar-wise, it's certainly no worse than last year."
Similarly, other longtime exhibitors praised the interest in vintage photography. At the booth of Hans Kraus, of New York, wood scenes by Fox Talbot from the medium's dawn in the 1860s, or Atget images of urban Paris from 1904, commanded long looks and stirred desire to know more. "Look at as much as you can," said the venerable Kraus when asked what newcomers to the medium could do to hone their collecting instincts. "Choose an area, define your interests. It's worth it."
Long-time New York dealer Alan Klotz said, "We are representing the estate of the Baltimore photographer A. Aubrey Bodine. We had seven prime examples of his stunning vintage exhibition prints of steel mills and the activity and maritime life of Baltimore harbor, and its docks. We sold five of them, and the other two are on hold. I call that a success. Of course we will have on-going access to the estate’s inventory."
Unquestionably, the New York galleries offered their share of showstoppers. Edwynn Houk's booth slowed traffic with a wall of Vik Muniz's stunning large-format inventions–a chromogenic print after Picasso's "Weeping Woman" from his 2007 "Pictures pf Pigment" series, the painterly swirl of color and cubism achieved through a photograph of raw pigments meticulously arranged. Just as arresting in their own way were Sally Mann's controversial 1991 photo of her nude daughter ("At My Mother's House"), as well as Stieglitz skyscrapers, Weston nudes, and Rayographs.
For digital timeliness combined with timeless subject matter, Bryce Wolkowitz's New York gallery offered, again this year, the gorgeously painstaking artistry of Stephen Wilkes. Wilkes photographs a vista from a fixed vantage over the course of 36 hours, utilizing 100 megapixel camera technology and digital artistry to distill a single image that combines the changing landscape, from early morning on one edge of the frame to night on the other.
This year, Wilkes showed his series, commissioned by National Geographic, on bird migration–stunning shots of masses of sand hill cranes at the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platt River in Nebraska and of lesser flamingoes in Lake Bogoria in Kenya (herded and stalked by Marabou stork predators). "I had been doing urban work for so long," Wilkes noted. "This was a chance to connect with nature in a way I hadn't done before."
Wolkowitz noted, "It was another great year at AIPAD. Sales were strong."
For Howard Greenberg's New York gallery, the urban world is very much photography's great landscape–from prints by Lee Friedlander, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks, Joel Meyerowitz's "Twilight Cities," to the unexpected photo-collages of Ray K. Metzger. And William Klein's fashion photography of the 1950s reminds us that glamour is New York's currency. Karen Marks, of the Greenberg gallery, was enthusiastic about this year's show: "The energy, the vibe, the venue–people are responding to everything!"
And at Charles Isaacs Photographs, the 1860s still lifes of Aubry and Adolph Braun were beautifully offset by the powerful life forces of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, captured in their element in the mid-1950s, while at Throckmorton Fine Art, Lynn Gilbert's series of feminist icons–Nevelson, Vreeland, Steinem, Friedan, RBG, Abzug, Child, Walters–made a statement that shouldn't need making. Throckmorton described the show as "very busy, very good" with visits from museum curators and collectors. The gallery sold a number of works including a Lewis Hine print for $35,000.
La Jolla, CA, gallerist Joe Bellows told us, "The gallery featured the complete Minor White sequence, Sound of One Hand. It's very rare and an important piece. We sold it opening night and had much interest."
Unquestionably, the medium is very much the message these days, as L. Parker Stephenson (also New York) showed in her booth. Classic prints by Walker Evans (a 1933 image of workers on a coal dock) and Bill Burke (a 1974 shot of coal miner wives in Kentucky) were the classic framing for the new conceptual adventures of Holland's Witho Worms, whose large carbon-print color work casts disorienting hues on carefully composed shots of trees in the woods, and who also offers a portfolio of carbon prints fashioned from coal dust itself.
The intersections of nature and art were strongly represented throughout the show, though, as in the Robert Koch Gallery's display of Adam Katseff's austere, large-format shots of rivers and riverbanks.
And where contemporary politics was inevitable, it seemed more muted than not. Steven Kasher's New York gallery offered "Performance/Politics" as a wall of then/now associations, with Phyllis Galembo's "Trump Mask"–a grotesque of the embattled President–and the connective tissue of Fred McDarrah's portraiture of Trump mentor Roy Cohn and his father Fred Trump.
More interesting, and certainly more poignant, was the gallery's wall of Ted Russell photos from the 1960s: Martin Luther King, inevitably, and a deeply expressive shot of a young James Baldwin and a younger Bob Dylan conversing at a New York luncheon or dinner. Baldwin, nattily suited, appears stiff and formal–as if bearing the very weight of African-American history reinventing itself in a public intellectual, against the implacable force of racism, while the scruffy Dylan appears jaunty, inherently relaxed in his whiteness. What a photograph!
Kasher said, "We had a very successful show and sold over 50 prints. We saw curators and repeat collectors and many new collectors and sold work including LaToya Ruby Frazier's Woodlawn Street, Braddock, PA, 2010, for $15,000 and Dan Weiner's Martin Luther King, Jr, Bus Boycott, Montgomery, AL, 1956, for $15,000."
That's certainly the appropriate response to a show like this. Photography--multiform, time-traveling, shape-shifting–asserts itself for the supernatural medium it is, and which we have found so easy to take for granted. New York's Paul Nicklen, a gallerist and photographer, reminds us how stunning it can be with his digital C-prints of Svalbard's ice waterfalls, of polar bears in a monochrome world that is vanishing, along with Vincent Munier's white-on-whites of penguins it Antarctica.
And the Tasveer Gallery of Bangalore, India, reminds us of how deeply human it can be, with images from the 1970s by Raghu Rai and Jyoti Bhatt of the Indian everyday.
Meanwhile, beyond the New York center of things, galleries offered proof that good work is to be found everywhere. Paul M. Hertzmann's San Francisco gallery had a small space that bustled with visitors. Vintage Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Paul Outerbridge prints were on display. "Good, good, good," said a busy Hertzmann. "We're doing well."
Catherine Couturier's Houston, Texas, gallery represented itself with pure eclecticism that connected the magical with the real: Maggie Taylor's digital dreams, Weegee's distorted Marilyn Monroe, Cartier-Bresson's 1961 miracle of a moment in Syphnos, Greece, as a girl runs up stairs looking like a hieroglyph in the deep distance of the shot. She sold an important Hans Namuth photo of Joseph Cornell at Home in New York, 1969, to the Morgan Library, a vintage print by Brett Weston and other contemporary photos.
From the official perspective, AIPAD's 2018 assessment is hard to argue with. "Collectors continue to compliment the show," said Richard Moore of Richard Moore Photographs, Oakland, CA, and AIPAD president. "They appreciate the enormous range of extraordinary work on view, the expanded exhibitions and programs, as well as the layout of the show with its spacious aisles."
Said Christiane Fischer, President and CEO, AXA STT Americas Corporation, the show's premier corporate sponsor: "Once again The Photography Show excelled. We were struck by how well the natural light and space enhanced the thoughtful selections of photographs on offer. Best of all was the dealers' enthusiastic engagement with visitors to their booths."
There were other events and programs associated with the Show.
The AIPAD Vision Award was established in 2017 to honor and recognize visionaries who have spent their lives at the forefront of the field of photography. The 2018 honoree was Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator of Photography, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, who was presented with his award on Wednesday evening during the show's opening. (A special interview with Keith Davis will be an upcoming feature in the next E-Photo Newsletter.)
The Photography Show brings together prominent curators, collectors, artists, and journalists to discuss the current climate in photography. This year the discussions explored some of the most challenging topics affecting our world, highlighting how the dynamic medium of photography is making a difference. Eleven AIPAD Talks, entitled Photography Talking Back, presented photographers who are on the front lines of issues ranging from immigration, racism, and climate change to gender inequality and the rise of “fake news.” The talks also included top curators, collectors and editors. AIPAD members Julie Castellano and Steven Kasher put in considerable volunteer efforts to put the educational program together.
Also, the AIPAD Show Committee members should be recognized for all their hard work as volunteers. The committee includes: Julie Castellano (Chair), Deborah Bell, Stephen Daiter, Steven Kasher, Karen Marks and Katrin Weber.
From the official reports of the sales highlights, it's always hard to assess the show's year-to-year success, but those dealers who revealed some of their figures seemed convincingly upbeat.
Huxley-Parlour Gallery, London: "We were delighted with the show. We met many new wonderful collectors and sold more than 15 photographs." Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto: "We had good consistent sales to new clients, both institutional and private."
Robert Klein Gallery, Boston, had a very successful show selling more than 15 photographs to both established and new collectors, including portraits by Yousuf Karsh for $12,500 and work by Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti for $4,500. Gary Edwards Gallery, Southampton, NY, noted, "Our booth was very active, and we sold 19th-century work."
Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York, sold a number of portraits of celebrities. Paul Newman's daughter attended AIPAD to see the portrait of her father at the booth.
NYC Gallerist Deborah Bell said, "My AIPAD was especially good in spirit, with more sales than usual on the spot and several to be determined after committee reviews at museums. It was very rewarding because many people who were new to me visited the booth of their own volition and bought work with more ease and familiarity than usual."
The Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite National Park, CA, reported, "Our goal was to introduce ourselves to collectors and advisors who were not familiar with us. We were so pleased that AIPAD was successful for us. We made sales and more importantly we made a lot of great new contacts." Utópica, Sao Paulo, Brazil, reported "very good sales and sold 20 prints to institutional and private collectors, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $20,000."
Le Filles du Calvaire, Paris, sold numerous collages by Katrien De Blauwer ranging from $1,000 to $1,500, and works by Christer Strömholm ranging from $4,600 to $5,000.
Monroe Gallery of Photography, Santa Fe, NM, said AIPAD 2018 was "highly successful and very well attended with eager collectors and newly-interested buyers. In the end, our buyers and sales made it one of the most successful AIPAD shows ever for us. We met with long-established collectors, institutional curators, and many first time buyers and sold more than 45 photographs."
The gallery sold Bill Eppridge's iconic "Robert Kennedy Campaigns" from 1968 for $9,500 and a number of prints by Tony Vaccaro for $3,500 to $9,000, including a portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe.
Ryan Vizzions, a photojournalist who covered the Dakota Access pipeline protests and whose work was shown by Monroe Gallery, said, "I went to North Dakota because I cared about the issue and never thought it would take me to AIPAD where my work is on view next to a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.!"
And that, perhaps, says it all when it comes to AIPAD's annual aggregation. The sheer juxtaposition of photography past, present and future ensures that the medium and its messengers will only grow, while its earliest illuminations fade yet never fail.
Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.
He currently reviews books and exhibits for both the E-Photo Newsletter and U.S.A. Today.