Issue #216  6/4/2015
Photography is back big time in London with relaunch of Photo London at Somerset House and the London Photograph Fair at 2 Temple Place nearby

By Mary Pelletier
Photography Historian and Writer

Michael Wilson and Daniel Craig at Rose Gallery. (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
Michael Wilson and Daniel Craig at Rose Gallery. (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

Dealers and collectors, mark your calendars for May 2016--it looks like Photo London is here to stay.

The 2015 incarnation of Photo London, organised by the cultural consultancy firm Candlestar, was announced at the beginning of last year, and has since been a topic of nonstop discussion and speculation among photo dealers of the world. After five days and 20,000 visitors, the verdict is in – and nearly everyone, dealers and visitors alike, agrees it has been a massive success--impressive, enjoyable, and lucrative.

London has been without a photography fair since 2007, after Reed took over from organiser Daniel Newburg, moved their version of Photo London from the Royal Academy to Old Billingsgate, and didn’t succeed in their attempt to rival their own Paris Photo. Ever since, London and photography have had a paradoxical relationship. General interest in photography seems to grow and grow, but that interest just doesn’t appear to translate into sales, as the market in London seems to continuously trail behind Paris and New York. Christie’s has recently moved much of their London-based photography activity to the web, Bonhams closed their London photography department in 2012, and while Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Bloomsbury all have auctions here (Sotheby's more erratically), they are often overshadowed by fellow departments in those other big cities.

The report from Photo London, which had over 70 international galleries exhibiting throughout Somerset House, signifies what could be something of a sea change, however. Dealers across the board are boasting of a successful week on the bank of the Thames, citing a refreshing atmosphere and venue, international clientele and visiting curators, and a public program of talks, events, and exhibitions that other fairs should envy. By Sunday, the fair had attracted a wide variety of collectors and curators, including Thomas Walther, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, Bianca Jagger, Robert Hiscox, Ellen and Dan Shapiro, Maya Hoffman (whose Luma Foundation helped fund the public program), Michael Wilson (who treated James Bond himself to a personal tour of the fair, as Daniel Craig and Wilson are both currently filming in London), London Mayor Boris Johnson, Matthew Slotover and Victoria Siddall of Frieze, Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota, MoMA’s Chief Photography Curator Quentin Bajac, and various curators from American institutions, such as the Whitney and the Getty.

Michael Benson, who organised the event with Fariba Farshad, was ever-present during the fair, keeping a close eye on dealer progress and quality control as the week played out. "The reaction to our first edition has been astonishing--far exceeding our own expectations and predictions," he said. "Indeed many of our exhibitors have told us that Photo London is the best art fair they have ever attended. Our aim was not to be the biggest, simply to be the best and with our first edition we have taken a huge stride in that direction."

Benson and Farshad were aware that they needed to set Photo London apart from the well-established fairs, both photo-specific (Paris Photo, AIPAD, Unseen) and London-based (Frieze, Art15, Masterpiece), and the success of the fair is in part owed to the unique venue of Somerset House, which has hosted London Fashion Week since 2009. Spread across three floors, galleries had the run of the entire building, consisting of two main wings where galleries were given their own 'room'. The end result was an atmosphere of discovery, in the very building where Sir John Herschel allegedly coined the term ‘photography’ back in 1839.

Not to say the first edition of the Candlestar fair didn't have its kinks--the layout was probably the most talked about aspect of Photo London, as some dealers complained about the lack of foot traffic on the upper and lower levels, slightly confusing signage, too-narrow corridors and visitor confusion on the busier days. But by the end of the week, it seemed the majority of dealers and visitors found the spacious rooms, hardwood floors and natural light via floor-to-ceiling windows to be a refreshing antidote to repetitive aisles and fluorescent lights, which can induce the unique ailment we all like to call "art fair exhaustion".

"I wish I had my gallery here!" Zurich-based gallerist Christophe Guye gleefully said on Saturday morning, relaxing on a sumptuous black leather couch in the middle of his stand. "It’s like being in a drawing room--so much more comfortable with people strolling from room to room. The atmosphere is very welcoming."

Michael Hoppen Gallery's "booth" (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
Michael Hoppen Gallery's "booth" (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

Guye was pleased with the clientele that was coming through the door into his 'drawing room'. "We met new collectors from the States, from London, Switzerland, and Italy--and did particularly well with Nick Knight, Stephen Gill and Rinko Kawauchi."

Guye was stationed on the ground floor, where the biggest, best, and brightest booths were occupied by the well-established galleries–Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY; Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY; Danziger Gallery, NY; Taka Ishii Gallery, Japan, etc.

The presence of the bigger dealers who committed to the show in this first year was perhaps the most important aspect of the fair’s success. It showed that the organisers were committed to getting the best vintage and contemporary work over to England. (Notable exhibitor absences included Hamiltons (London), Bruce Silverstein (NY) and Hans Kraus (NY), although those dealers all did make the rounds on the preview day to scope out the scene).

Karen Marks of Howard Greenberg, who said the gallery had done well with Saul Leiter, noted that there was a lot of choice in terms of fair exhibiting this spring.

"We considered (Paris Photo) LA, but in the end decided it would be good to be part of a new scene," she said. "I think there is a bit of work to be done with walk-in collectors, but on the whole this has been a great experience. We’re very happy we are here."

The ground floor mixed vintage and contemporary dealers. Bernard Quaritch (London) and Robert Hershkowitz (UK) were stationed across the way from James Danziger and Edwynn Houk. James Hyman Photography (London) was between Wapping Bankside Project (London), Eric Franck (London), and Steven Kasher (NY). James Hyman got an especially large amount of press for three of its 19th-century photographs: a William Henry Fox Talbot "Veronica in Bloom" at £300,000 and two Gustave Le Grays (The Great Wave and the Broken Wave) at £250,000/each (the pound was approximately $1.55 at the time).

The amount of contemporary work on display far outweighed 19th- and early 20th-century material, but the dealers with earlier material were pleased, or even "happily surprised" at the level of interest, as Joanna Skeels noted at Quaritch, which sold a Julia Margaret Cameron Cenci study priced at £50,000, as well a large Bill Brandt of Kew Gardens.

Lindsey Stewart of Quaritch added, "Before the fair we were somewhat apprehensive, but this disappeared when we walked into the space and saw the way in which it would lend a unique character through the use of permanent rooms rather than temporary stands. Although we are based in London, we met many existing customers that we rarely see, as well as new clients, and found people to be genuinely enthusiastic about what we were showing. We had successful sales for our photographs from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries including Cameron, Brandt, Mayne and Seaborne, and are already thinking about PL16."

London Mayor Boris Johnson with Peter Fetterman (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
London Mayor Boris Johnson with Peter Fetterman (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

Robert Hershkowitz reported that he had sold "a lot of small items to people who have never collected before--they are dipping their toes in the water. And we’ve met some new English clients." Among the sales Hershkowitz had made was a P.H. Emerson platinum print to a new client and an impressive Linnaeus Tripe albumen print of Madura.

Roland Belgrave, too, was immensely pleased at the level of clientele coming to his stand, despite its rather hard-to-find location, tucked in a corner in the back of the basement.

"What matters is the clients, and Candlestar has the clients," he said. On Sunday morning, he had sold a Tripe, priced at £16,000, and had a reserve on a rich blue-toned Herbert Ponting carbon print, priced at £17,500. "There’s been a huge amount of interest [in vintage material]," Belgrave said. "I’ve had more interest here than I’ve ever had at the book fair (in Olympia)."

While the vintage dealers were on the whole pleased with interest and sales, given London's reputation, it was, unsurprisingly, the contemporary work bringing in the punters.

Peter Fetterman (Santa Monica, CA), had two stands, one functioning as a solo 'stand' for Stephen Wilkes' 'Day to Night' series (his Trafalgar Square was priced at $25,000), as well as a mixed stand featuring groups of work by Sebastiao Salgado, Lillian Bassman, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gregor Maiofis.

"Salgado is the man of the moment," Fetterman said, referring to the photographer’s solo show in the basement of Somerset House, as well as his being named the inaugural Photo London "Master of Photography" in an awards ceremony on Saturday. On Sunday morning, the gallery had sold a $120,000 Goldmine Portfolio (Ed/16) and a $50,000 Iceberg photograph by the photographer, as well as a number of Henri Cartier-Bressons.

Flowers Gallery Photobook Balcony with a view of the Thames (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
Flowers Gallery Photobook Balcony with a view of the Thames (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

Upstairs, a cluster of London-based galleries showing contemporary work were doing well, despite the trek up the steps. I overheard that Flowers Gallery, which was showing large-scale color works by Simon Roberts, Mona Kuhn and Nadav Kander, among others, sold their entire stand and then some. They also had the most envied booth of the fair, with a photobook balcony that boasted a vista view of the Thames and the South Bank. As Francis Hodgson, photography critic from the Financial Times aptly tweeted: "As nice a place as any in London to shut up about photographs for a mo."

Ghislain Pascal from London-based Little Black Gallery was situated on one of the upper floors, facing out over the Thames. Taking in the Sunday morning sun in their bright booth, Pascal chatted with a very pleased Anja Niemi, one of the gallery's exhibited photographers. "We have sold upwards of about 40 of Anja’s prints," Pascal said. "It’s been great being here; there have been new clients and also we've had a chance to actually meet overseas clients we've never met before."

Michael Hoppen reported sales of various photographers, including work from Ishiushi Mayako’s recently publicised ‘Frida’ series, Weegee, Enrique Metinides and Sohei Nishino. Hoppen’s commitment to Japanese photography seems to be paying off. If there was a "trend" to be talked about at Photo London, it was the popularity and commercial success of Japanese photography. The fair’s first John Kobal Residency Award was received by Daisuke Yokota, whose work "harkens back to an identifiably Japanese tradition, whilst pushing the medium irrevocably forward," as put forth by the selection committee.

Kaz Tsuchikawa of amanasalto, a Japan and Belgium-based venture that deals solely in platinum prints with a focus on Japanese photography, reported that Sugimoto was their big seller, but that they had met new clients from South America, Switzerland and Germany. "Because we only deal in platinum prints, we have to explain the difference in the processes, and that takes time,’ he said of the education involved in their business. ‘But I think many people are starting to realise the beauty of platinum prints."

Exterior of Somerset House during fair (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
Exterior of Somerset House during fair (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

Ibasho, a new Japanese photography-focused gallery out of Antwerp run by Annemarie Zethof and Martijn van Pieterson, was also pleased at the level of interest, despite the growing number of 'competitors' (of which they are one of the newest). "The supply of Japanese photography was quite extensive because of the presence of important Japanese galleries such as Taka Ishii, G/P, PGI and IMA/Amanasalto," Zethof said. "Although these are, strictly speaking, our competitors, we feel that we didn't suffer so much from their presence, also because our presentation and selection were different. We also think that the work that Simon Baker (Tate Modern) is doing, promoting Japanese photography on a large scale, has definitely worked to our advantage. Daido Moriyama and Yoshinori Mizutani were our big sellers. We also sold work by Keizo Kitajima, Takashi Yasumura and Naoyuki Ogino, and we had much interest in the vintage works by Issei Suda, Shomei Tomatsu and Miyako Ishiuchi, so hopefully that will result in more sales in the future."

As one of the galleries in the 'Discovery' section, Zethof was stationed in the basement, where the foot traffic was certainly lacking compared to other levels--it was a confusing maze of stands with partitions that were not always clearly marked.

But having a number of smaller and emerging galleries on the lower level was also an important opportunity for the enterprises that may not always have the option of exhibiting at Paris Photo or AIPAD. Zethof was especially appreciative of this fact.

"For us as a new gallery in Belgium and specialised in a certain niche, it was extremely important to participate in a new international fair such as Photo London," she said. "First of all, for the wide exposure you can get at such international fairs, secondly to see the reaction of the industry and the public to our concept and our material (which has been very positive) and thirdly to sell our material. We can honestly say that Photo London has been very successful for us, and we hope to be able to exhibit at Photo London again next year as well."

Charlie Fellowes of Edel Assanti (London) reported that he had sold everything on his stand, which was filled with large scale Noemie Goudal works, but as an emerging gallery, he was one of those down in the basement of Somerset House. "Positioning is key," he said. "I regret not being on one of the upper floors, but that said, the organisers have done a very good job with this fair."

Stephen Daiter, who made the trip over to the fair from his gallery in Chicago, was looking to see how exhibiting in London might stack up against his usual stands at Paris Photo and AIPAD, but is keen to see sales results before committing to next year’s application.

Beneath the Surface, V&A Exhibition (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)
Beneath the Surface, V&A Exhibition (Photo copyright Magnus Arrevad, courtesy Photo London)

"Overall I liked the show and thought it looked good," Daiter said. "Somerset House has an intimate feel other fairs do not have given that each dealer has their own room to make a statement in. I particularly liked the layout on the main exhibition floor. The emerging gallery spaces were too cramped. The lack of large and clear signage was my biggest issue, because it was often confusing to find exhibitors even with the map."

He added, "I thought that the caliber of the art work was very high and covered the whole history of photography in generally very interesting ways. Especially interesting to me were the exhibitors who concentrated on post-WWII Japanese photography. The several pieces of LUMA-supported programming I saw were excellent, although I think less tight programming would lessen the long wait in line to participate in the lectures."

It was the LUMA-supported programming that contributed to what many called the fair’s 'fresh' atmosphere. Keeping dealers happy is, of course, the top priority of any art fair, but Photo London's public program also succeeded in winning over the press and public, which was something that set the photography-focused week apart. Benson and Farshad were clearly keen that the fair had selling points that went beyond actual gallery selling points--and what they came up with was an impressive list of talks featuring the likes of Don McCullin, Sebastiao Salgado, Susan Derges, Todd Hido, Mitch Epstein, Rineke Djikstra, Rankin and Stephen Shore, among others. The fair also commissioned a handful of in-house exhibitions, most notably an exploration of the V&A's permanent collection in "Beneath the Surface", and a Sebastiao Salgado’s "Genesis".

Debora Bell, as a visiting gallerist told us, "The sequence of separate rooms was very nice and extremely sophisticated, and they provided a chance to concentrate more on each exhibitor's offerings. I thought the caliber of work was very high. I hope the fair will continue and prosper. It is very good for the London photo market--and internationally--in every way and on every level."

As the vans closed in on Somerset House at the end of play on Sunday, and tequila began flowing during what can only be described as the best photography fair closing party I’ve ever witnessed (complete with reggae DJ blasting tunes throughout the stone alley maze beneath Somerset House), Photo London announced it will be back again next May. Saving the dates (May 19-22, 2016; Preview Day May 18) is definitely a good idea.

London Photograph Fair at 2 Temple Place (Photo by Mary Pelletier)
London Photograph Fair at 2 Temple Place (Photo by Mary Pelletier)

The London Photograph Fair

Just down the Thames embankment from Somerset House, a somewhat quieter fair was also taking place on the same weekend--a 'special edition' of the usual Bloomsbury London Photograph Fair. Obviously eager to cash in on London’s bustling photography crowds, the typically small table-top fair (usually held four times yearly at a Holiday Inn in central London) traded up to 2 Temple Place, a dark and romantic Victorian mansion--quite a contrast to the usual fluorescent lights of a Russell Square conference room.

Eighteen vintage dealers were spread over two floors, all UK and Paris-based, save for one New York dealer, the 19th Century Rare Books & Photographs Shop. Daniel Newburg, who was behind the earlier incarnation of Photo London at the Royal Academy, took over the organisation of the Bloomsbury fair in 2014, along with Arnaud Delas and Jane Orde.

Newburg, who was exhibiting as well, was pleased with the way the fair looked and the clientele it had attracted. "There are some really good quality people coming through the door," he said. "People came to London who wouldn’t have come for just Photo London, but they came because we had this show, with an interest in vintage. I think it’s really important to stimulate and promote the vintage market."

"Venues are always very difficult, and this is just the right size," he continued. ‘What I would like is to have more retail customers, and reach more collectors, more new collectors. This is a dealer's market; this is where the savvy people come. The key is to have good quality images of interest, and the quality of the prints needs to be good so that we can educate the public or new collectors about what a good vintage photograph looks like. And the exhibitors have really done that."

There were a few exhibitors usually seen in Bloomsbury: Daniella Dangoor (London), Joseph Delarue (Paris), Galerie Verdeau (Paris), Daniel Blau Gallery(Munich/London), as well as some newcomers, including Csaba Morocz (Paris), who on Sunday morning was finishing up a sale of two pictures from the day before, and Christophe Lunn (Paris), who gave up on the table top fair a while back.

"The calibre of 2 Temple Place is really superb," Lunn said. "The atmosphere here is really exquisite. Frankly, I never did that well at the small table top fairs, so I prefer something a bit more upscale. I've sold a Gustave de Beaucorps of Algeria and a de Clercq of Spain that I've had for some time–the same image was in the Pagneux sale, but that one was largely overpriced."

Quaritch was the only dealer to be doing both fairs, and had calculated the perfect pictures for its respective audiences. Its Temple Place stand had a range of work including £750 Alvin Langdon Coburn photogravures of London to Edouard Baldus albumen prints and salt prints in the £2,000-£6,000 range, as well as two carbon prints of WWI Women’s Football clubs for £1,200 and £500. On Sunday, they had sold an outsized carbon print by MacMahon of Aberdeen, which documented the considerable size of Scottish cod for £1,500 .

Daniel Blau, who often exhibits at the Bloomsbury fair, was for some a noticeable absence from Somerset House, as he often has formidable stands at Paris Photo and AIPAD. But he was happy with his stand at 2 Temple Place, which was filled with NASA photographs. "This is the real deal," Blau said. "The fair next door is utterly boring, with confusing architecture, and I'm here to support Danny, the original founder of the original Photo London."

While he was the only one I found to be noticeably negative about the quality of Photo London, most of the dealers, including Lunn, were upbeat and hopeful that both fairs could benefit from a renewed interest in buying photographs in London, no matter the venue. Lunn spoke passionately about the comradery needed for weeks like these to succeed.

"I hope Photo London is a success," he said. "I managed to see the entire fair, and I like the intimacy of the rooms, rather than the partitioned booths. This fair is great as a parallel because it highlights the photograph as an object, and that is in line with the taste of many collectors."

Sarah Wheeler, the head of photographs at Bloomsbury, London, visited 2 Temple Place on both days, and on Sunday echoed Lunn’s sentiments perfectly: "This is where the real treasures are!"