Highlights from Photo London 2024

Every art fair needs its own personality. As a regular visitor to the various photography and contemporary art fairs in New York, and annually to Paris Photo in France, I have often wondered over the past decade since its founding what angle the relatively new Photo London fair was taking. With the help of some serendipity, I was able to visit the fair myself this year, and what I found was both markedly different from the art fair options in New York and Paris and filled with a surprising degree of freshness and energy.

What I expected to find at Photo London was a pervasive British-centrism in the work on view, and while there were of course many more London and UK-based galleries to be found in the aisles, there actually wasn’t quite as much British photography, especially vintage work, as I might have thought. Instead, Photo London is reliably filled with celebrity, fashion, and glamour photography as its primary aesthetic, most of it contemporary; fascinatingly, I have always wondered why the London photo auctions are consistently heavy on this kind of work, and at Photo London I may have found the answer – that’s what sells here.

The gallery mix here is noticeably different than at US fairs – very few of the usual suspect US galleries, with a rich mix of British and European galleries, extending all the way south and east to Eastern Europe and Turkey. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of these more distant galleries (to me) and their offerings. In general, while there was inevitably some overlap with Paris Photo, Photo London felt like its own animal, at least in terms of the work on view.

The fair is held at the stately Somerset House, whose architecture essentially creates three fairs in one. In the open interior courtyard, there is a smoothly polished tented area, reminiscent of any number of international contemporary art fairs; on the sides, there are more intimate rooms, which feel like a warren of smaller encounters; and in the basement there is the vibrant Discovery section, which was teeming with tightly cramped booths, people, and chatter when I visited. Each area has its positives and negatives, but the variety makes for some positive friction and risk-taking, which the art fairs I typically attend seem to have lost sight of. Other comparative observations and impressions of Photo London include more prices on wall labels, much less work priced at roughly $50K or higher, and a broader sense of inclusiveness for mid-tier and emerging galleries. All in, being different is critical, so I hope Photo London continues to lean into its own eye (even it it doesn’t always match my own personal collecting interests) and lets its amiable quirkiness flourish – if so, I’ll certainly be back.

The slideshow below gathers together a selection of highlights worthy of some additional thinking, starting with the booths in the central Pavilion, moving left and right to the West and East wings, and ultimately down to the Discovery section and the additional exhibits, with lots of new galleries and new artist names added to our database. As is the case with all of our art fair reports, each image is supported by linked gallery names, artist names, prices (as available), and a short discussion or commentary.

Galerist (here): The back wall of this booth featured an array of 1980s era manipulated Polaroids by the Turkish artist Şahin Kaygun. Like Lucas Samaras’s works, they explore the aesthetic possibilities of deliberately interrupting the development process, creating gestural marks and painterly distortions that reconfigure bodies. Priced at €4500 each.

Camera Eye (here): This entity is the main representative of British photographer David Bailey, and this lucky draw grab bag was a clever way to present some of Bailey’s vintage Polaroids. On offer were a range of subjects, from fashion and portraiture to nudes and other commissions, each print unique. An impulse buy for a certain kind of collector, with a chance at finding something unexpected. Priced at £1000 each.

Atlas Gallery (here): About a decade ago now, the British photographer Richard Caldicott made a series of photograms using cutout paper negatives. The works are boldly graphic and geometric, with brightly colored papers cut with meticulous precision, leading to high contrast shapes with crisp edges. Priced at £3700 for the diptych.

Echo Fine Arts (here): While Photo London has its fair share of animal photography sprinkled around its booths, this sinuous jellyfish image by the German photographer Jan C. Schlegel stood out from the predictable crowd. Part of a larger series, the platinum print amplifies the minutely tactile details of the jellyfish, including its cascading lines and scalloped ruffles, and blasted with flash, the form jumps out from the surrounding inky darkness. Priced at £4900.

Bildhalle (here): As simple and elemental as the floral still life tends to be, there always seems to be room for new innovation in this traditional genre. In this work, the Dutch photographer Danielle Kwaaitaal has submerged everything underwater, which accounts for the strange reflection at the top of the image and the ethereal glowing mood. Priced at £6200.

Galerie Binome (here)/Magnin-A (here): While we have seen this collaboration between Lee Shulman and The Anonymous Project and Omar Victor Diop recently (at Paris Photo), that familiarity only reinforces how tremendously strong these photographs are. The Anonymous Project collection features vernacular images of 1950s America, with few (if any) Black faces to be found in the mundane scenes. Diop has cleverly digitally inserted himself into a range of moments, joining picnics, cocktail parties, vacations, and graduations as if one of the friends or family. His poses and expressions are priceless, and his digital sleight of hand is nearly flawless, creating a biting commentary on the dated white culture captured in the original photographs. Here he fiddles with his camera while sitting in a lawn chair, as the rest of the group pays more attention to posing. Starting at £4200 each.

Our review of the accompanying 2023 photobook can be found here.

Galerie Thomas Zander (here): This booth was a solo presentation of Helen Levitt’s color work from New York in the 1970s and 1980s, as seen in posthumous estate prints. This red car composition was a standout, with the flat tire, the broken glass, the dog under the rear bumper, and the older woman on the stoop all coming together with a kind of urban harmony. Priced at €8500.

Crane Kalman Gallery (here)/Open Doors Gallery (here): This 2014 work from Karine Laval comes from her “Heterotopia” series. On the wall, it’s a powerhouse of glossy saturated color, with shadows, reflections, layers, and light flares making the natural scene all the more unnatural. Priced at £10450.

Galerie Persiehl & Heine (here): This booth featured several still lifes by the German photographer Gregor Törzs, all executed in sinuous platinum palladium. This larger work was the most engaging, primarily because it was less obvious, the form encouraged to dissolve into an inconclusive gestural essence. Priced at £4140.

Persons Projects (here): This work by Grey Crawford comes from his “Chroma” series, where he introduced masked blocks of color into his compositions. Here a dusty construction site with various poles, bricks walls, culverts, and other formal geometries is interrupted by both hovering blocks of brown and black and a partially transparent blue-to-black gradient. The effect is unstable, with flatness and depth in a constant tussle. A modern print, made from a 1981 negative, priced at €15000.

Iconic Images Gallery (here): This 1990 society picture from New York by the British photographer Dafydd Jones is a classic “decisive moment” image. The canapés, the dogs, the facial expressions, and the tensions of the moment come together in a memorably chaotic party picture. A later print, priced at £7200.

Iconic Images Gallery (here): This image is one of several that Norman Seeff took of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith in 1969. Mixing the spice rack and the stove top with a bit of slinky seduction, the picture captures some of the magnetism both possessed long before they were famous. A later print, priced at £24000.

The Gallery of Everything (here): This booth was a solo presentation of the photocollages of the Romanian artist Ion Bârlădeanu. The works have a satirical edge, irreverently and subversively mixing politics, money, and pop culture. Priced at £4500.

Rademakers Gallery (here): This 2012 image by the Dutch photographer Carli Hermès leverages the possibilities of image projection. Between the deliberate blur and the confusions of the cast image laid across the model’s body, the image feels futuristically unstable. Priced at €9750.

Photon Galerija (here): This early 1960s abstraction by the Czech photographer Jaroslav Rössler is pleasingly mysterious. Layers of regular stripes give way to more jagged and torn forms, which then seem to pull apart toward the left edge of the composition, revealing seams of shifting watery light. Priced at £3500.

Photon Galerija (here): The Slovenian photographer Stane Jagodič was a busy experimenter with photomontage during the 1970s, and this performance “Worshipper of Light” gathers repetitions of self-portrait faces and assemblage light fixtures into thickly stacked layers. It’s an otherworldy arrangement, seemingly repeating into infinity. Priced at £2800.

England & Co. Gallery (here): These collaged images document a 1973-1977 performance by the British artist Anne Bean. There is real life peril involved in “Shouting “Mortality” As I Drown”, with a palpable sense of struggle and fight in the moment. Priced at £8000.

Koop Projects (here): The South African artist Tshepiso Moropa clearly has some intriguing momentum started with intimate folklore-driven collages like this one. Like Frida Orupabo, she is probing definitions of identity and Blackness, here with a deeper sense of allegory or storytelling. Priced at £750.

Gina Cross Projects (here): I’m consistently interested in how contemporary photographers are pushing the boundaries of darkroom-based cameraless abstraction, and this work by the British photographer Jo Bradford finds an edge of wispiness and ephemerality that feels fresh. The insubstantial layers of color shift and wander in this “Washaway” series, never quite resolving. Priced at £395.

One of the special exhibitions staged as part of Photo London was a tight survey of the work of the French photographer Valérie Belin. This 2004 image of a black-and-white chips bag was one I hadn’t seen before, filled with a splash of Pop Art graphic power. NFS.

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Read more about: Anne Bean, Carli Hermès, Dafydd Jones, Danielle Kwaaitaal, David Bailey, Gregor Törzs, Grey Crawford, Helen Levitt, Ion Bârlădeanu, Jan C. Schlegel, Jaroslav Rössler, Jo Bradford, Karine Laval, Lee Shulman/The Anonymous Project, Norman Seeff, Omar Victor Diop, Richard Caldicott, Şahin Kaygun, Stane Jagodič, Tshepiso Moropa, Valérie Belin, Atlas Gallery, Bildhalle, Camera Eye (David Bailey), Crane Kalman Gallery, Echo Fine Arts, England & Co. Gallery, Galerie Binome, Galerie Persiehl & Heine, Galerie Thomas Zander, Galerist, Gina Cross Projects, Iconic Images Gallery, Koop Projects, Magnin-A, Open Doors Gallery, Persons Projects, Photon Galerija, Rademakers Gallery, The Gallery of Everything, Photo London

One comment

  1. Pete /

    That photo by Grey Crawford has introduced me to a very intersting photographer. Thanks.

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