"Photo London is growing", declared Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad of Candlestar as the fourth edition of Photo London opened at Somerset House. There was a record number of exhibitors this year, just over 100 galleries and dealers, plus book publishers. In addition to the historical building, with east and west wings, and the temporary pavilion that was added two years ago in the courtyard, this year a further but smaller pavilion was added on the terrace at the back of the building.
Most exhibitors I talked to felt that there were a good deal fewer visitors this year, but according to the organizer's press office, attendance was exactly the same as last year: 38,000. The fair was, as in previous years, extremely well promoted in the press, and there was an abundance of friendly staff to help visitors find their way, but the layout still poses great challenges. The main building has a ground floor, a first floor and underneath is a formidable labyrinth of spaces, and I've yet to meet a single person who hasn't missed something at this fair because of this layout. It's therefore crucial to pick up a map, but I also feel that the signage could be greatly improved upon.
The public program received much praise from exhibitors and visitors alike.
One side of the pavilion in the courtyard was covered with images by Daido Moriyama, courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery, the other with Gilles Caron's famous images of the May 1968 uprising in Paris, courtesy of School Gallery/Olivier Castaing.
Downstairs in the main building the two large spaces were given over to Edward Burtynsky, this year's Photo London Master of Photography, and Hans P. Kraus Jr., who showed an exhibition called "Sun Pictures Then and Now - Talbot and His Legacy Today".
The Burtynsky exhibition featured both new and rarely seen work, and I was particularly taken with "Morenci Mine # 1Clifton, Arizona, USA 2012", an extremely powerful work, which reminded me of Gustave Doré's illustrations for Dante's Inferno.
The Kraus exhibition was singled out by many I spoke to as the best thing in the whole fair this year, interestingly enough, people who, at least to me, have never before expressed any interest whatsoever in 19th-century photography. Mixed in with Fox Talbot were images by contemporary photographers, including Abelardo Morrell, Cornelia Parker Hiroshi Sugimoto, Vera Lutter and Mike Robinson.
Further inside, White Cube presented an exhibition by Darren Almond, and the space by the stairs was given over to "Photography on a Postcard", 350 one-off editions by leading names such as Nick Brandt, Bruce Gilden and Maggie Taylor, but anonymous, on sale for just £55, the proceeds going to The Hepatitis C Trust.
There was an excellent series of talks, curated as in previous years by William A. Ewing, and speakers included Joel Meyerowitz, Laia Abril, Thomas Struth, Michael Wolf and Alex Prager.
As for the fair itself? Well, there were some changes this year, making it clear that the Photo London is still a work in progress as far as finding a balance between supply and demand for what remains primarily a London audience.
The success of the first edition in 2015 pretty much stunned the photography world, that Candlestar had managed to pull off what many observers had deemed impossible, a major photo fair in London. The second edition proved to be much more sluggish sales-wise, and several American exhibitors, including Weinstein Gallery, Edwynn Houk, Yossi Milo and Robert Klein bailed out for the third edition. They were substituted last year with a number of leading art galleries, Victoria Miro, Alison Jacques and Sprüth Magers. Evidently the fair didn't work for them either, and they didn't come back.
The most noticeable addition this year was Iconic Images, which had taken two large stands, one in the main pavilion, the other on the first floor in the main building. Iconic Images represents a number of photographers and estates, including Terry O'Neill, Norman Parkinson and various rock and celebrity photographers. There was plenty of similar material elsewhere at the fair. This is the type of material that does well in the London auctions, but while exhibitors I spoke to didn't want to go on record and criticize other exhibitors, they clearly felt that this was not a good direction for the fair and expressed hope that some of the leading galleries would come back to the fair.
I started out in the west wing where Robert and Paula Hershkowitz showed a magnificent selection of works, including Charles Nègre, Charles Marville, Gustave Le Gray, Duchenne de Boulogne, Adrien Tournachon, and P.H. Emerson. There was a great Henry Bailey, "Still Life with Fishes and Eel", a wonderful piece by Dimitrios Constantin, "Treasury of Atreus/Tomb of Agamenon" and a particularly beautiful print of Rejlander's "Poor Jo" which would have been a highlight of the "Victorian Giants" exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery had it been included.
Robert Hershkowitz told me. "Photo London hasn't really worked for us the previous years but it's been great this time. Really, really good. The Rejlander sold very quickly, as did the Bailey and the Constantin, plus works by Samuel Bourne, P.H. Emerson and William Ravenhill Stock. We have also sold a lot of great works from the racks. Unlike Paris Photo racks are allowed here and that has helped sales enormously, so we are extremely pleased and will be back next year."
Next door Bernard Quaritch had put on an equally impressive display. I was particularly taken with two extraordinary Hill & Adamson prints of Bonaly Tower and St. Andrews, and two Thomas Annan prints. The wall opposite also had some real treasures.
Lindsey Stewart told me, " We have one wall of 19th-century photographs, which includes three rare ‘instantaneous’ Stuart Wortley photographs of Naples with wonderful cloud detail for which he was known, and two mammoth-plate Bisson Frères and Forest photographs from a series of French railway studies. These two are in stark contrast to the Stuart Wortley prints, because they have the typically bare skies of most mid-19th-century photographs. One is an albumen print, but the other is an unusual montage in which an albumen print of the foreground subject matter had been trimmed along its horizon and mounted over a completely blank coated salt print which provided a beautifully crisp, clear ‘sky’ area."
I asked Stewart about sales. "We have had fewer sales than last year, which was our most successful to date, but we were happy to sell across the spectrum of our offerings, from an unknown 19th-century photographer, through Bisson Frères to Alvin Langdon Coburn and Roger Mayne. We also have some potential interest in our Hill & Adamson, Gustave Le Gray and Stuart Wortley photographs."
As for the fair as a whole, Stewart said, "The education program and events organised around the fair get better and better, and the publicity is excellent. The Burtynsky and Fox Talbot and his Legacy exhibitions provided a stimulating dialogue between the old and the new and the use of modern technology in contemporary photographic practice. As a fair visitor I prefer fairs that are not too big, as it’s easy to suffer overload when a fair becomes very large, so I preferred the smaller size of previous years. I believe there is still plenty of scope for introducing more variety within the 19th century and classic/modern sections of the fair, while maintaining the best of the contemporary offerings."
Whether London, Paris, New York or elsewhere, many exhibitors find that sales are not as good they used to be. I brought up the subject with Howard Greenberg who told me, " I think there is such a thing as art fair fatigue, and I think it's real. People come to a fair because it's fascinating to see so much art in one place. It's a nice place to spend a day or two, but the compulsion for collectors to buy at fairs is just not what it used to be. A lot of collectors are quite happy to skip this fair or that fair, whereas in the past they didn't want to miss a thing. So in that sense I think we have passed "peak fair", although there are still a few that always draw the collectors, such as Paris Photo and Art Basel."
Greenberg showed an impressive selection of works by Saul Leiter, Ray Metzker, William Klein, Joel Meyerowitz and Jungjin Lee.
Greenberg noted: "The fair has been good from the point of view that we have had a lot people coming, people we know as well as new people. Sales have been slow though. There are great things going on at the fair and we're really enjoying the programming. But I think the fair is a bit slow in general. We always sell Saul Leiter here in London, and have also sold Joel Meyerowitz and William Kein. The classic black and white vintage work has been slow. There has been interest, but nothing has come to fruition. And it takes a special kind of buyer. Some of the works are into five figures, and they are small pictures. They're not for decoration, and that evens the playing field a little bit."
I was particularly gripped by the Ray Metzker work on the stand but the real showstopper here, and one of the highlights of the whole fair, was Matthias Olmeta's "Traite de Paix 1", an assemblage of 40 ambrotypes of atrocities in China and Vietnam, including Eddie Adams' "Saigon Execution", with LED of a prayer written in gold flowing softly in and out.
Greenberg told me, "Technically we don't represent him. We included him in a wonderful group show at the gallery, "Contemporary uses of ancient practices", curated by Jerry Spagnoli in 2016. Karen Marks and I were in Arles last year, and we were walking down a small street after dinner. It was very dark and behind a shop front we noticed this work. So we knocked on the door and there was Matthias! He was doing the wiring for the LED. I was completely blown away by the piece so I bought it there and then. It's incredibly heavy, as it's all ambrotypes (heavy glass). We have had strong interest, but it hasn't sold. We will probably take it to Basel. It belongs in a museum."
I didn't have to go far for another of the highlights of the fair. In the next room James Hyman had a gorgeous Harry Callahan print, a nude of the photographer's wife Eleanor.
Hyman told me, "It's a very special piece because apart from a contact print from the 2-1/2 inch square negative, we don't know of another print of it. I bought it a few years ago and I researched it with the Callahan archive. The print has been wrapped around a board, which is why it's horizontal. It belongs to a group of images he took of Eleanor in 1948-49, and they're not the way he would present her later. They're sensual and eroticized. It was shown at MoMA and doesn't appear afterwards."
The piece had sold. Hyman said, " We have also sold work by Baldus, Charles Nègre and Bill Brandt, so we have made sales, but not to anyone English. So we have done okay but the fair doesn't feel as energized as Paris Photo. Candlestar got off to an incredible start and it's amazing what the company has achieved. As a festival with talks, events, parties, it's tremendous for London. But a festival is one thing, and the challenge is the fair and retaining its exhibitors; and that requires a collector base. When we do Paris Photo and AIPAD we do well and we sell to people from all over the world. The organizers need to get those people to London. We all know that London has a small market for photographs, so we are even more dependent than New York and Paris on getting people from abroad. The challenge is to get the curators, collectors and patrons groups from America to come to Europe twice a year. Paris in November is firmly in their calendars. Personally I have seen two American curators. It's different when you're showing young artists, but our main clients are museums so we need them to come. I think it would be a good idea to involve as many curators and leading collectors as possible in the lectures and debates to ensure they come to London."
Across the hall, Michael Hoppen was less hopeful that more curators would be willing to come to the fair. Hoppen pointed out: "They have to make choices, and this is not one they put in their calendars. Some go to New York, and there's much more knowledge there. And there's not a lot of vintage here, as there isn't really much of a market here. I'm not saying anything new or controversial. Everybody knows it, and I would made the same statement ten years ago."
Hoppen had made steady sales. "We have sold works by the Japanese photographers we have brought, Araki, Fukase, Moriyama, as well as Thomas Mailaender, Tim Walker, Peter Beard and Charles Jones. But the price point here is £5,000-10,000. Above that and it's a struggle."
Hoppen had a few suggestions for the future direction of the fair: "It's not like New York or Paris. Photo London has its own identity. But I think the fair is much too big. I would half the size. I don't think you can find enough quality for a fair this size any longer. We all struggle to find good content. Discovery is something that I think is very important. You go to a fair to be informed, be surprised, find something new, and I don't think there's a lot of that here. I haven't seen much that I haven't seen before. But that's not because it's Photo London. I think it's indicative of the market.
"Unfortunately photography tends to be spread across the Internet. When you discover something new it's most likely to be on Instagram. So in funny way, what Thomas Mailaender does, appropriating all these images from the web, putting them on canvas and stone, is part of the problem with photography. It ends up on people's phones and hard drives, not on people's walls, it's not being studied or considered. As Terence Pepper said to me the other day, "Connoisseurship and research is just down the tubes." Nobody is terribly interested. So I love what Hans Kraus has done downstairs, and it's the best thing in the whole fair."
Roland Belgrave was at the end of the long hall in the west wing. A difficult space to exhibit in but as in previous years he had done a great job. And he really managed to surprise me, pulling off a coup this time. In the middle of his space was a 19th-century French photographer's cart with beautiful lettering and in excellent condition.
Belgrave told me, "If I was a collector, I'd buy for myself! It came from an important English archive, and they needed to make space and sold it off. It has certainly pulled visitors my way, and I have sold it to a classic car collection in southern Spain, so it's going to a proper home."
Belgrave had changed tack this year, "I decided to include some contemporary work by Ian Van Coller among the classic 19th-century and early 20th-century work, and I'm very pleased with the way it has worked. I have had a good fair, better than last year. I have met several new clients. The major pieces are now on hold for two institutions, the portraits by Jacques-Philippe Potteau and the Julia Margaret Cameron portrait of Lord Tennyson and his children. I have to say though that I'm shocked that the Ponting of Antarctica, a beautiful black-toned print, hasn't sold. Still, I'm very pleased, and Photo London is definitely the place to be."
The small pavilion on the terrace at the back of the building was a great addition to the fair. There were ten exhibitors here, plus the Leica Collector's Lounge with an exhibition of large-size portraits by Bruce Gilden. But once again signage was a problem, and it didn't attract as many visitors as it should have. I visited the pavilion several times, and there wasn't much foot traffic.
I stopped by Contrasto Galleria's stand, with beautiful platinum palladium prints by Irene Kung.
Alessia Paladini told me, "This is the first time we did the fair. People really love Irene Kung's work, and we have had a lot of appreciation from curators and collectors. Perhaps I had too high expectations of the market here, and it's been quite slow with sales. Perhaps it's because the pavilion is new and placed outside. So it's been a bit frustrating. Interest and contacts are good, but we are here to make sales. And I'm not so happy about that."
Ibasho Gallery was on the first floor. The gallery specializes in Japanese work, and were pretty satisfied. Annemarie Zeithof told me: "We sold very well this year. More prints, but smaller value items. Particularly Miho Kajioka was very popular, and we sold a few of her prints. But we also sold works by Daido Moriyama, Toshio Shibata, Mika Horie and Tokyo Rumando."
I moved on to the east wing and stopped by Fahey/Klein to speak Nicholas Fahey, who joined forces with his father a couple of years back. I was immediately drawn to the large Dennis Hopper print of Andy Warhol with a flower, taken in 1963. Fahey told me," We now represent the Dennis Hopper Estate. There are so many gems in the archive, great things that have been overlooked. We are now working on various projects to get the work out there, and we have had a lot of interest from other galleries and museums. The Royal Academy showed "The Lost Album" a few years back and we are working on placing that right now. It's very exciting and there's a whole generation of collectors who are unaware of Dennis Hopper as a photographer."
Last year, the gallery focused on established names, such as Herb Ritts, Horst and Peter Lindbergh, and did well with them, Fahey said, "But it was also obvious that this was a new crowd who didn't know that much about the history of photography. We also realized that those big names are in the London auctions and there's no point in competing with the auction houses. So this year about half of what we brought are new, emerging artists, Remy Holwick, Janette Beckman and Brendan Pattengale; and we have had great response, and they have sold as well. Plus, we have connected with other galleries who want to show the work, and publishers who want to do books with them."
As for the market, Fahey commented, "The art fair model is changing and there are so many articles being written about how it's bad, but you have to take a step back and reevaluate what you're doing. We look at art fairs as a way to introduce new artists. My father and I talk all the time about how we can bring new people to the photography market. And photography is special, whether people are into fashion, music, celebrity, or culture. They don't necessarily have to be art lovers. Once they're in, it's easier to educate them."
I was curious to hear how it had been going for Augusta Edwards in the space known as B9. It hadn't worked for the exhibitors the previous years--Ben Brown, Michael Hoppen and Sprüth Magers--but Edwards had in my opinion made much better use of the space, simply by moving the gallery table further back in the room. In addition to works by Heinz Hajek-Halke and Graham Smith, there was also a large group of black and white images by Chris Killip, punks with Mohicans, taken in Newcastle in 1985.
Edwards told me, "The punk bands in Newcastle used to rehearse in a building that was torn down. They petitioned the council and got use of a disused police station. So the series is called "The Station". But Killip never printed or published any of the work. Last year he went through his archive and found the contact sheets and negatives. So this is the first time the work has been shown, and we are planning to do a publication in the near future. It's been huge draw, sure it's a specific point in time, but it seems current today."
Sales hadn't been good for Edwards, "This has been the worst of the four editions for us, but I should point that every year we have had decent sales from people we've met here. So fingers crossed. We have had a lot people coming, but it's the same story as always with Photo London. The people who come need an education in the history of photography. Sure, the audience is very engaged and interested, but lack the necessary knowledge. So they're not in the market to spend a lot of money. It seems that other exhibitors have done really well with low value prints or super commercial work, fashion, celebrity etc. And that's not the kind of material we deal in."
England & Co specializes in photography related to performance art from the 60's, 70's and 80's. And there were great works on offer here, most of which I hadn't seen before. Katy England told me, "The best known artist here is probably Susan Hiller (self portraits taken in photo booths in 1972). Others are much less well known. They're artists who disappeared, like John Francis Brown. I often look for people who have fallen between the cracks, and the work looks so incredibly fresh."
England wasn't concerned about sales, "I suppose we differ from the other exhibitors in that we don't come here to make sales but to connect with people, institutions and curators. And the fair is very good for that."
In the main pavilion I spoke to Giles Huxley-Parlour: "Photo London is such a great thing for the city and it's incredible what Candlestar has managed to do. There are a lot wonderful things about the fair, but there are some challenges as well. It's possibly too much of a festival and not quite enough of the buying experience. I suspect many visitors see it as a day out. They take in a lecture, wander about the fair and have lunch. The art should be the star of the show rather than the world around it. I think Candlestar just needs to keep persevering and honing it. Perhaps it would be better to have slightly fewer galleries and higher end ones. And that way they will hopefully get some of the bigger galleries back."
Huxley-Parlour didn't agree that the UK has a weak collector base. "As I have said to other London dealers and galleries. We all run successful businesses here, and most of the prints that we sell are sold to UK customers. I think we should be able to do great business here, but we haven't this year. I'm also wondering if May is a bad month. It's always the worst month in the gallery. It's the end of the season and beginning of summer. Perhaps the fair should be moved to the beginning of the year."
Huxley-Parlour had achieved decent sales this year. "We have done reasonably well with the young, innovative photographers we brought, Cig Harvey, Petrina Hicks, Johanna Stickland, Pruent Stent and Honey Long."
Roman Road, founded in 2013 is one of the most interesting galleries that have emerged in London in recent years. Two of their artists, Daisuke Yokota and Antony Cairns, are included in Tate Modern's current exhibition on abstract photography "Shape of Light", a work by the latter gracing the poster and the cover of catalog.
Marissa Belani told me, "Because of the show at Tate Modern, we decided to curate a booth around abstraction. In addition to Cairns and Yokota we are also showing Aaron Siskind, George Platt Lynes body abstractions and Gita Lenz who was a street photographer in the 1950's, who was very influenced by Callahan and Siskind and then began to explore abstraction. Sales have been good, a bit slow early on, but it has picked up. But I was surprised that I had to educate people about Siskind. He seems to be unknown in this country, even among photography people."
There were many well-designed stands at the fair, but as per usual Hamiltons had taken it to different level altogether. In addition to works by Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Robert Frank and others, there was also a replica of Daido Moriyama's famous bar in Tokyo. And it was for sale, as a limited edition of three, with a price tag of £60,000. The gallery has a policy of not commenting on industry matters, but I did find out that one had been sold within a couple of hours, and the other two were quickly put on hold.
Many exhibitors told me that Photo London still has some way to go but then a major photography fair in London was never going to be a piece of cake. The first Photo London, organized by Daniel Newburg, had plenty of visitors, but proved slow in terms of sales. The exhibitors' complaints about the London audience were the same then as now: short on knowledge of the medium's history and the market. The fair was then taken over by Reed Exhibitions, for the purpose, most observers suspected, of closing it down in order to shield Paris Photo from competition.
Despite this, the idea of a fair kept coming up. A couple of years before Candlestar revived the fair, I met up with the promoter of one of the art fairs who told me, "We thought about doing a photography fair in London, but then we realized that we had to pull in at least 70 leading international galleries AND make sure there was enough business for them. It seemed like a pretty tall order so we quickly dropped the idea."
Candlestar has shown it's made of sterner stuff, but it still has its work cut out for it. As for recruitment to classic photography among the local population, I can't see why that situation shouldn't improve, for the same reasons I outlined in my report two years ago.
James Hyman's idea of getting more overseas curators to participate in the program also strikes me as a good one. And next year, they will have further incentives to come to London. This autumn, The V&A will unveil the first phase of a new, state-of-the-art photography center, more than doubling the display space dedicated to photography. And in winter, Fotografiska, the Swedish organization whose venue in Stockholm has made the city a destination for photography, will open an even bigger space in London, 89,000 sq. ft., in Whitechapel, with Alexander Montague-Sparey as chief curator.
The fifth edition Photo London will take place May 16-19, 2019.
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator, lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.