E-Photo
Issue #225  6/9/2016
 
Photo London's 2nd Edition Gains Crowds, But Buyers Are the Real Question for Exhibitors; Meanwhile Tate Hosts Photobook Fair

By Michael Diemar

Photo London Organizer Michael Benson takes the stage. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)
Photo London Organizer Michael Benson takes the stage. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)

"Will they be able to repeat last year's success?" That was the question gallerists, dealers and observers asked themselves as the organisers, Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad of Candlestar, opened the second edition of the re-launched Photo London at Somerset House on May 18th.

The enormous success of the 2015 edition took most of the photography world by surprise. It had been preceded by a great deal of doubt, and in the city itself, more than a little of good old-fashioned British defeatism and grumbling. The dealers and galleries specialising in classic photography who had exhibited at the first incarnation of Photo London, organised by Daniel Newburg, then taken over ever so briefly by Reed Exhibitions, who cancelled it after 2007, had had less than good experiences of the city. And those experiences could be summed up as: "You simply can't sell high-end photographs in London."

Nothing much had changed on that score last year, but there was enough business in the mid-range to keep the exhibitors happy. Somerset House, with its neoclassical architecture and rooms in different sizes made a welcome change from the standard layout of most art fairs. Not that there weren't flaws last year. A-list exhibitors were mixed with C-list and there was far too much of what Robert Hughes, in relation to painting, once described as "decorative indifference", a quality I would be tempted to call "Art Lite".


THE WEAK OUT AND THE STRONG IN

Some of the weaker exhibitors had been weeded out this year, and several heavyweights had come on board, most notably Hamiltons, Hans Kraus Jr., Weinstein Gallery and Johannes Faber. Those weren't the only changes. A beautiful pavilion had been erected in the courtyard of Somerset House, giving ample space to galleries as well as a number of book publishers. Visitor numbers reported were high--35 000, up a whopping 40% from last year.

The exhibitors reported way more caution among visitors this year. Some cited uncertainty over the outcome of the U.S. election, but mainly the possibility of "Brexit". The referendum on June 23rd will decide whether the UK will remain in the EU or not. The organisers certainly made their position clear. Wolfgang Tillmans, the German photographer who won The Turner Prize in 2000, had been given a wall on the outside of the pavilion to show an installation of 26 posters, urging people to vote to remain in the EU. "Never mind those secret meetings in Euro Group", somebody next to me muttered. And during the fair, the conversation amongst Brits would switch quickly from photography to the referendum. The day after the opening several newspapers reported that overseas buyers of expensive properties in London had begun insisting on opt-out clauses should "Brexit" become a reality. The casual big spenders were clearly not in the mood.

Minneapolis-based Weinstein Gallery had taken a stand in the pavilion and showed an impressive selection of works by Alec Soth. Martin Weinstein explained, "It's a tie-in with the exhibition Alec just had at The Media Space at The Science Museum here in London, and the response has been phenomenal. He did a talk during the fair, and I was told by the organisers that it was the first to sell out."

Weinstein had nothing but praise for the fair. "It's a lovely fair and how could you want a more beautiful setting? I have had a wonderful week and the organisers, Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, are incredibly nice, very accommodating and want to help in any way they can. I found them to be very organised and attentive to detail, and they have certainly brought out the attendance. The fair has been pretty good for us. In addition to some sales there are a number of things in the works. So until everything shakes down it's difficult to deliver a complete report. There will be people here who will say 'I've had a good fair' or 'I've had a bad fair.' For me though it's a continuum. It's about what comes out of it in the long run, rather than immediate sales. And we have met some very interesting people here. We have never exhibited in London before. For many of the dealers fairs are essential to their business, whereas, as a general and very thriving art gallery, we are not that dependent on fairs. We tend to select places that are interesting, where we can meet new people. And now that our children have grown, we often choose to do fairs in cities where my wife can visit the museums. I doubt that anyone else here is going to tell you that!"

Indeed, nobody did. I asked Weinstein if he planned to return in 2017. He told me, "A year in advance is difficult for us to say. Especially at my age, and I'm definitely the oldest dealer here."

IBASHO Directors Annemarie Zethof and Martijn van Pieterson. (Photo by Michael Diemar)
IBASHO Directors Annemarie Zethof and Martijn van Pieterson. (Photo by Michael Diemar)

Antwerp-based gallery IBASHO were next in the pavilion. The gallery specialises in Japanese photographers, from the recognised masters to younger contemporary artists. Yoshinori Mizutani had produced an interesting London-themed portfolio especially for the fair. IBASHO exhibited last year.

Directors Annemarie Zethof and Martijn van Pieterson commented, "We are very happy with the amount of visitors, way more than last year. The atmosphere of the fair is really, really good. The organisers listened to the suggestions that the exhibitors made last year. With regards to sales, we have found that people are a lot more cautious. They don't buy immediately but want to think before making a decision, and that's different from last year. Maybe it's Brexit or the general state of the world economy. But we are quite happy with the way things have gone."

Atlas Gallery had taken a large booth to show large, panoramic prints from Nick Brandt's new series "Inherit The Dust". Several visitors had come to the fair especially to see the new work, and it was both gripping and shocking. Brandt began photographing wild animals in Africa in 2001, in black and white, under overcast skies, in order to convey a feeling of "a vanishing world". Even so, Brandt was horrified by the speed of the destruction of this natural world. The urban sprawl, factories, garbage dumps and quarries had destroyed the habitats of lions, elephants and cheetahs that he had visited only a few years previously. Brandt went through his archives, selected images he hadn't released before, printed and bonded them to panels up to 30 feet long, shipped them to East Africa and photographed them amidst the devastation.

Ben Burdett, director of Atlas Gallery, said, "The fair has been great for us. We launched the project two months ago and sold a huge amount to existing clients. If we had launched it here, I don't think we would have been able to cope with all the inquiries. We have been able to focus on people we haven't met previously, among them several museum curators; and we have had a museum show confirmed for next year. We have sold to both corporate and private collections. I'm extremely pleased that the project has appealed to people who haven't really looked at Nick's work previously."

Also showing in the pavilion was Hamiltons. The gallery's stand was designed to its usual high standard, and they presented an impressive selection of works by Irving Penn, Horst, and Robert Frank, among others, plus the famous cover image of The Rolling Stones' 1976 album "Black and Blue", shot by Japanese fashion photographer Hiro.

Don McCullin, in front of his exhibition at Photo London. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)
Don McCullin, in front of his exhibition at Photo London. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)

Directors Tim Jefferies and David Peckman have a policy of not commenting on industry matters, but I got the impression that they were pleased with the fair. Hamiltons were also showing the Don McCullin exhibition downstairs in the main building. It was clearly a labor of love for the gallery, and an eye opener for many visitors. This was especially true of the images taken in Bradford at the end of the 1970's; the large prints revealed in detail the abject poverty and squalor in the city's slum dwellings.

James Hyman Gallery received a lot of press coverage last year on account of the price tags on two prints by Gustave Le Gray (£250,000 each) and a Fox Talbot (£300,000). The price point was much lower this year.

Hyman explained, "Last year presented a chance to make a statement to a British audience, as well as an international one. Although we have a reputation at AIPAD and Paris Photo for photographs, people in London still associate me with paintings and drawings so we wanted to show the calibre of what we have tucked away in photographs--really high end prints. That's great for making a statement, but this was year was more about stimulating some new collectors. After all, we are here to do business. So in the run up to the fair we did ten exhibitions in ten weeks--with deliberately low-priced works. And at the fair this year have cross section of works from the 19th-century to more or less the present.

"Last year we showed some very rare, little-known carte postales by André Kertész. This year has been about his greatest hits, later prints but in large sizes. The audience in London has less history of collecting and is responding above all to the image and much less to the object. It's a different collector base. Sales have been good, much stronger than last year. We have sold across the board, and it has helped that the price point is lower."

I stopped by London-based gallery Purdy Hicks' stand several times to look at works by Awolska van der Molen, Jorma Puranen and especially two unique works by Susan Derges. Derges has been at the forefront of the movement of camera-less photography in the UK, and her way of balancing experimentation, imagination and poetry places her a cut above the rest in my opinion.

Purdy Hicks' Director Nicola Shane said, "The Derges pieces are two early-ish works from 2006 and 2009. We have placed one in a collection in New York, and we're very happy about that. It's a new client for us and that's why we do fairs, to meet new people. We also have interest in the other one. It's been a good fair for us--lots of people and private collectors and institutions. There has been a wide range, from people who have never been to a photo fair before to people we've met at Paris Photo."


UNDERWHELMED BY THE CONTEMPORARY WORK HERE

I met several editors and critics from the European continent who were visiting the fair for the first time. They were decidedly underwhelmed by the contemporary work on offer, describing it as "nothing new', "uninteresting", and "unchallenging". Feelings shared it turned out by London Gallerist Michael Hoppen: " I think it's difficult to see great, great photography these days. The thing that's missing from the fair… Well it's rather ironic: there's a section downstairs called "Discovery", but there's no discovery! So you go to Paris Photo, and you go on to a stand and you think 'Oh my God, where did that come from? It's amazing!' It doesn't happen so often these days. Fairs have become very expensive, and it prevents young galleries who could bring discoveries from participating. Bringing something new and relatively inexpensive doesn't pay the bills, so the fair organisers are in a sense working against taking photography forward.

"There is no young photographers' fair in London. The photobook fair Offprint has taken off in a big way and I'm not surprised. Bring a thousand pounds and you come away with 35 wonderful things. Here it's 25 pounds a head to get in, it's crazy. So it's completely upside down and stops the whole next generation from becoming involved with the physical object. I'm afraid they will have to give some stands to young galleries, as they have covered the costs for some of the American galleries. I would be inclined to point that arrow in another direction, at new galleries from Brazil and Israel who could really bring something to genuinely discover."

Hoppen himself showed an interesting selection this year. The rare vintage prints by Istvan Kerny and Imre Kinski drew a lot of attention, as well as the works by Masahisa Fukase and Sohei Nishino.

I asked Hoppen about sales. "It's okay, not as good as last year. People want to talk about Brexit and quite rightly too. It's very important. I don't think the fair will end up being quite as successful as last year, although it has certainly been successful in terms of the amount of people. Lots of people looking at photographs. The problem is, where are the collectors? They're missing here."


A LACK OF KNOWLEDGE

Hoppen continued, "And there is a definite lack of knowledge. The Internet can provide people with instant access to pictures all day long until they come out of their ears but it doesn't teach them anything about the processes. They don't get to handle the pictures, and, sadly, the days of visiting galleries, learning about photography, looking at prints without the glass on, going to the auction houses, well that's over. So now people are being fed big pictures of celebrities, and that's as far as photography goes for a lot of people. Which is why the auction houses are selling them for £10.000-£40,000, when you can get an exquisite Brassaï for a quarter of the price. But there is no reference.

"You and I both grew up in a community of hugely knowledgeable people, like Howard Greenberg and Philippe Garner who would give you information about Calotypes, Collotypes, silver and platinum prints. Nobody is doing that today. It is a lot to expect new collectors to understand why one print is £10,000 and another is X thousand. We have built a market that needs explanation but unfortunately people aren't being given the opportunities to learn."

A number of exhibitors suggested adding lectures to the fair. Hoppen said, "I would like to see that generally. I find it very sad that I have suggested to Tate and the V&A many, many times, but to no avail, that they should hold seminars, similar to the ones the Met does. They should be very informative, brilliantly run, where you look at processes and papers. Collector Michael Mattis would bring two seemingly identical Bill Brandt prints, talk about the different papers and go over them in forensic detail. The story behind those pictures and the manufacturing of them is incredibly important.

"I think to do it here at the fair would be a mistake. Better outside the fair, and that's one thing I like about Photo London, that they extend their program beyond the four days. There's a series of lectures and events going on throughout the year, which I think is very healthy."

Hoppen wasn't the only one to lament the lack of knowledge among the visitors and the shortage of collectors. Howard Greenberg said, "This crowd is by-and-large new and not at all informed. I wish people would come up to us and ask questions and gain some knowledge. I mean, that's what we're here for. We have sold a handful of pictures, some Saul Leiter, Vivian Meier, William Klein, a screen by Eikoh Hosoe, but not anything of any consequence financially."

Trying to single out one print as the best in a large fair is for the most part a ridiculous pursuit, but this time it simply jumped out at me on Greenberg's stand: a rare variant of Edward Steichen's famous portrait of Anna May Wong, taken in 1930. It showed more of the studio environment, which merely added to its sense of mystery. It was a real jewel. The print quality was exquisite, and the price tag of $55 000 seemed more than reasonable.

Greenberg told me, "That's almost what I paid for it. I'm a little bit sensitive to people who think I'm an expensive dealer, so I try to debunk that by pointing out how reasonable I can be. Sure, I'm expensive when I have to be but I don't try to push the envelope. I bought this one because I thought it had its own quality, in a way more surrealist than the famous one, but it hasn't been easy to get anyone to like it enough to buy it."

There were other jewels nearby. I returned to Robert Klein's stand several times, mainly to look at the vintage works by Moholy Nagy, Edward Weston and especially the Man Ray portrait of Dora Maar and the double self-portrait by Dora Maar. Maar produced about a dozen variants of this image, with single and double profiles, with varying print quality, but this one was particularly fine.

Klein said, "The work I've brought this year has more of a crossover to the art world. I had great conversations early on here about Picasso, Dora Maar and Man Ra, and Koppitz and his relationships to certain German painters that I hadn't heard of, so it was an enlightening experience. Since then it has turned into a stroll. People ask about prices, but they don't ask for the best price so it ends there. I have had a lot of interest in the Man Ray portrait of Dora Maar. I took it out of the fair and showed it in a private residence, and we are in conversation about it, but it's not a confirmed sale."

These prints are at the high end of the scale, Klein noted. "The question of whether the prices are too high for London doesn't really come into it. I don't think people here are even familiar enough with the market to know if the prices are high or not. Whether a particular print costs $90,000 or $140,000 simply doesn't mean anything to them. It's not that kind of an audience. My sense of London--and I say this a little bit tongue on cheek--is that looking at the auctions it's about Kate Moss' tiny titties and big and bigger, shocking fashion pictures. As for the fair itself, I think it's brilliant: the idea, the location and the audience, which is enormous. But it's going to take some time for this audience to get educated sufficiently to understand that this is a market, a real market, part of the art market; and that the values are established by people who know what they're talking about. The prices are not fictitious numbers dreamt up by dealers."

Johannes Faber exhibited in the West Wing and was pleased with the position of his stand, "I'm among the other dealers in classic photography, and it's a different client base. I wasn't here last year, as I was getting married, but colleagues told me it was a good fair. We sold some things on the first day: a vintage print of Yousuf Karsh's famous portrait of Winston Churchill and some Brassaï. There's been nothing since then. I can't say that I'm happy, but it's okay."

Robert Hershkowitz and Family in front of his booth. (Photo by Michael Diemar)
Robert Hershkowitz and Family in front of his booth. (Photo by Michael Diemar)

There was a family get-together at Robert Hershkowitz's stand, and I was quickly enlisted to take some group portraits of three generations. There was beautiful material on the walls by Captain Linnaeus Tripe, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Peter Henry Emerson--among others--plus a wonderful paper negative by Louis Robert.

Paula Hershkowitz said, "We have had a lot of people enjoying what we have on the walls, but they don't understand the prices that you have to pay for this kind of material. We have prints in racks at slightly lower price levels, and we have made sales there. We sold some things before we came here, and the Fox Talbot of Nelson's Column is on hold.

"For us, Photo London is a place where we can publicize great works from the 19th century and hopefully help educate people. It's not like Paris Photo where we can get some really good sales. Here it's about the few who really understand the higher priced works and are prepared to pay for them. But there are very few of them indeed here."


A DIFFERING OPINION

While lack of knowledge was a recurring complaint from the dealers in classical photography, Lindsey Stewart, in charge of photography at Bernard Quaritch begged to differ, "We weren’t struck by this. In fact we have generally been pleased to find that many visitors to our room at Photo London seem to be knowledgeable, and, if not, keen to learn more. Having said that there is certainly scope for more discussions, lectures, seminars or workshops that deal with aspects of collecting early photography."

Comparing this year with last year, Stewart said, "We were aware of more press interest, and we probably had more visitors, but felt there were perhaps fewer overseas curators and collectors this year. We have sold less than last year, but were pleased to make sales from our earliest material including Hill & Adamson, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), William Peters and Thomas Annan. This shows that although the fair is dominated by 20th and 21st century photographs, we are also reaching people who appreciate fine earlier works. We were also happy to sell works by Mike Seaborne, our only living photographer".

First time exhibitor Hans P. Kraus Jr. showed a fine selection of works by Fox Talbot, Rev. George Wilson Bridges, Roger Fenton, and others.

Kraus was impressed with the fair: " I think it's an extraordinary fair in terms of the amount of people coming here. It's still early days, as this is the second year they've had it. It's our first year here so people are getting their bearings regarding what we have. I wouldn't say that sales have been great, but we have sold some smaller things, and there is some promise for larger things, so I'm not concerned. We have had way more attention from people who want to sell things than from people who want to buy. And that's been very exciting with regards to the material that's been offered to us."

Roland Belgrave with his carbon print of a locomotive by James Mudd. (Photo by Michael Diemar)
Roland Belgrave with his carbon print of a locomotive by James Mudd. (Photo by Michael Diemar)

The Don McCullin exhibition was a major draw for the fair, and housed downstairs on the mezzanine level in the main building it ensured a steady stream of traffic to the exhibitors next to it. Roland Belgrave had brought some fascinating material, including an impressive early album of Moscow, a monumental carbon print of a locomotive from the 1880s by James Mudd, and a stunning Herbert Ponting print, "The Fakir of Holy Benares", circa 1915.

Belgrave said, "I bought the Locomotive print especially for the fair. It's the best of six prints, and so good I would like to keep it for myself! With a price tag of £6,500 I'm surprised I haven't sold it. I've never seen anything like it. As for sales, it's been pretty much like last year. I have broken even but that's it. The British just don't seem to want to buy photography. But seen in a larger perspective, I think the fair is just such a positive thing for London."

In the stand opposite, England & Co were exhibiting a type of photography hitherto largely ignored by the photo world, even though it's seen more and more at fairs--photography from the 60's, 70' and 80's, relating to performance and conceptual art. Jane England said, "We are showing works by Michael Druks, Howard Selina, Judy Clark, Eduardo Kac, and others. Artists using photography as a tool to document, as opposed to producing traditional, fine prints."


THE LUCK OF LOCATION

Exhibitors in the pavilion, the ground floor of the main building, and the mezzanine had nothing to complain about regarding visitors. Others were not so lucky. Legendary Editor and long-time observer of the international photo world Jean-Jacques Naudet was blunt in his assessment, and the headline in the newsletter L'Oeil de La Photographie read "Photo London: 2/3 happiness, 1/3 nightmare". Naudet went on to describe the catastrophic lack of traffic in certain sections of the fair. And he was spot on.

Sure, there were stacks of maps in the entrance of the fair but that didn't seem to help. The majority of visitors seemed content to wander around without maps and so missed an awful lot due to the complicated layout of the building. These problems were evident almost as soon as the fair opened and could have been solved with some simple but effective signage. Seven publishers, including MACK and Thames & Hudson, had been allocated a separate space with its own entrance at the far end of the East Wing of Somerset House. I went there twice and was on both occasions the only visitor there.

A month before the fair opened, the organisers decided to utilize a storage room, "The Annexe". In order to reach it, you had to exit the back of the building and walk right to the far end. Traffic there was slow to say the least, although Giles Huxley of Beetles Huxley took it in his stride.

"We went slightly out on a limb by showing in The Annexe but it's been quite nice because we haven't had the hordes of people coming through. It's been a filtering system. The ones who have made it out here have been really interested. We have met good curators and two really interesting collectors. As with all fairs it's a question of what happens afterwards, but we have covered the cost. We have sold six pictures, four by Ruud van Empel and two by Zhang Kechun and that's not bad."

The other exhibitors in The Annexe were less than pleased. The staff at Polka just shook their heads, when I asked how the fair had been for them, and said "no people". All I got at Alex Daniels Reflex's stand was a thousand-mile stare.

Martin Parr. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)
Martin Parr. (Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images for Photo London)

The atmosphere was not much better on the first floor. Ghislain Pascal at The Little Black Gallery said, "I sold some 60 works last year. This year I have sold eight. It's not Brexit. People are spending money. I have an exhibition with Anja Niemi opening in a few days at the gallery, and I have pre-sold half. At least I have sold some things. There are exhibitors here who haven't sold a single thing and they have come from abroad."

Flowers, one of leading contemporary galleries in London, seemed to be the only exhibitor on the first floor which had decent sales. Chris Littlewood said, "I think a follow-up is always difficult, it's almost second album syndrome, so we didn't have too high expectations. Last year was really, really good for us. We have sold less this year, but we are pretty happy on the whole. We haven't sold as much of our usual bread and butter stuff. This year the buyers have focused on unique works, by Julie Cockburn, Esther Teichmann and Tom Lovelace."


OUTSIDE THE SHOW: TALKS AND DISCUSSION

There was much to enjoy outside the commercial realm at Photo London, especially the series of talks and discussions, curated by William A. Ewing. All were filmed and will in time be posted on the Photo London website. The panel discussion with Quentin Bajac, Michael Wilson, Anthony d'Offay and Howard Greenberg, described by Ewing as "The Mount Rushmore of Photography" was utterly gripping. I went with Sebastian Dobson, the renowned expert in early photographs of Japan, and despite the stifling heat in the packed auditorium, we would gladly have sat there for another hour. A sentiment shared by Greenberg it turned out. "I enjoyed it immensely. It could have another hour or two. I would have liked each person to go little bit deeper, because everyone was really into the talk. Not all panels should go on that long, but this one could have."

A number of dealers were showing privately outside the fair, most notably Lou Proud, who left her position at Phillips in December last year and now works as an independent dealer and advisor. She had taken over the Schiaparelli Suite at the Beaumont Hotel and presented a fine selection of works by Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, Miles Aldridge and Paul Hodgson, to name a few. Others were content to stroll around the fair, looking for business.


FINDING ITS PLACE IN THE MARKET

"The fair still has some way to go" became almost a cliché amongst the exhibitors, meaning it has to attract buying collectors rather than thousands of non-buying, largely British visitors. And that in turn means finding a position within the existing fair structure. Paris Photo is firmly established as the main international fair for the whole photographic canon, and FOAM's Unseen fair in Amsterdam is now the must-travel-to fair for contemporary conceptual photography. AIPAD remains the fair for classic photography with growth in the contemporary side, especially with its relocation to the Piers next year. It will also be interesting to see the impact of the 19th-century Photography Conference and Show presented by the Daguerreian Society in NYC in October, as far as the 19th-century market is concerned.

How will Photo London position itself in this photography fair universe? Apart from the disgruntled exhibitors who suffered from lack of traffic, I sensed an awful lot of goodwill towards the fair, more than any other fair I can think of. It is undoubtedly the dealers in classic photography who have given the fair its kudos, especially internationally. But no matter how much those dealers like the fair, its atmosphere and setting, they will in the long run expect financial reward from the time and money invested.

Daniella Dangoor's photo store on Museum Street ten years ago represented a different time and market. (Photo by Alex Novak)
Daniella Dangoor's photo store on Museum Street ten years ago represented a different time and market. (Photo by Alex Novak)

And I can't help but feel pessimistic regarding the possibility of the emergence of a new group of British collectors of classic photography. Looking back to that first incarnation of Photo London--and it does seem like a lifetime ago--there's a whole infrastructure that has disappeared. One that could turn the merely interested observer into an obsessive collector.

Back then, Sotheby's and Christie's offered 19th-century works, giving a young collector of contemporary photography the chance to look at early masterpieces. That's gone. Zelda Cheatle Gallery and Helena Kovac's Focus Gallery were still going. Both had started their respective careers at The Photographers' Gallery (back in the day when it lived up to its name) and had known several of the famous photographers whose prints they dealt in, amongst them Bill Brandt and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Their galleries were welcoming and acted as meeting places for photographers, collectors and critics.

In Museum Street, Daniella Dangoor sold fine 19th-century prints and her gallery could, as Sebastian Dobson once commented to me, "within minutes turn into an impromptu salon, when dealers and collectors from the UK, France, Germany and the US stopped by to discuss prints and share information".

For the novice collector, the three galleries offered a chance to get an informal education, and advice and information was given freely and generously. Cheatle, Kovac and Dangoor are now working privately in various capacities, and while there are galleries and dealers in London handling the same type of material, their places of business are not the same type of casual meeting places/education centers. And I doubt that anyone will be able to recreate them. It is simply too expensive.

Looking to the art world in London as a whole, many galleries are now facing major difficulties in the form of astronomical rent hikes and increased business rates. I met a number of dealers who have left auction houses and galleries in recent years to strike out on their own, and all seemed to thank their lucky stars that they hadn't taken a space.


PHOTOBOOK FAIR AT TATE MODERN

Offprint at the Tate Modern. (Photo by Michael Diemar)
Offprint at the Tate Modern. (Photo by Michael Diemar)

While domestic recruitment to classic photography is slow, it has been that much stronger in photobooks. On Friday, May 22 and running for four days, Tate Modern gave up a large section of the Turbine Hall to Offprint, an art publishing fair with a focus on photobooks, with roughly 150 artists, independent and self-publishers, as well as dealers in rare photobooks taking part. Prices ranged from five pounds (about $7) for photocopied publications to thousands and thousands for those rare titles. The place was absolutely packed on opening night and the atmosphere was almost like a rave party. It was mostly a young crowd, but I also spotted Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, whose excellent three volume "The Photobook : A History" has become the standard work.

Parr was a key player in establishing the photo book just over 10 years ago, and for many photographers that is their chosen medium, not the print. Also present was Bruno Ceschel, founder of Self Publish, Be Happy, an organisation that aims to help aspiring photographers to self-publish their own books. Ceschel also held workshops and staged a performance piece.

It was all great fun, although a number of collectors told me that the book market isn't quite what it was five years ago, meaning no drastic price increases. J. H. Engström, the Swedish photographer who has produced some of the most interesting photobooks in the last ten years, told me a couple of months ago that while he would continue to produce books, he was now moving into film, "There's an inflation in photo books, and they don't seem that special anymore".

Nevertheless, business seemed brisk on the opening night. Interestingly enough, some of the London-based publishers I spoke to told me that on a day-to-day basis, most of their sales came from Germany, Japan, Scandinavia and the US. "Barely anything here."

In north London, on the borders of Camden Town and Kentish Town, there's a piece of graffiti. Weathered by time and barely legible, it simply states: "London is a Bitch". That would seem to be the case whether you're selling photobooks at 30 pounds or William Henry Fox Talbot prints at 300,000 pounds.

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 I Photo Central.