Issue #251  6/10/2019
Special Edition of London Photograph Fair Offers a Vintage Alternative

By Michael Diemar

Bruno Tartarin and Adnan Sezer exhibit. (Photo by Photos Discovery)
Bruno Tartarin and Adnan Sezer exhibit. (Photo by Photos Discovery)

The Special Edition is an offshoot of The London Photograph Fair, a table-top fair founded in 1982 and the only fair in the UK devoted to vintage photography. It was set up in the Great Hall at nearby (to the main Photo London fair) King's College. The Special Edition has fewer exhibitors displaying their wares in booths, but there were also a number of tables at the very back of the hall.

In addition to the exhibitors, British photographer Jonathan Keys had set up a studio in the entrance to the building, making ambrotypes of the grand staircase and the sculptures, and offering his services as a portrait photographer. A number of exhibitors and visitors paid to have their portraits taken, all clearly fascinated as he demonstrated the process.

I was involved in the fair in more ways than one this year. I exhibited at the fair, and Bruno Tartarin and I decided to have the UK launch of our new bi-annual magazine, The Classic, at the fair. A number of exhibitors at Photo London also helped with the launch, making space on their tables and desks for the magazine for visitors to take. The Classic was a success at AIPAD and it was a success in London. I really got a feeling that the magazine had connected with the whole classic photography sector and I was particularly pleased hat led to a great many discussions and suggestions for future articles and interviews.

Daniella Dangoor, the London-based collector and former dealer, showed 36 photographic views of Mount Fuji, in honor of the famous series by Hokusai.
Samey. Repetitive? Quite the opposite. This was a splendid collection, with different takes on Mount Fuji, by names such as Herbert Ponting, Felice Beato, Kusakabe Kimbei, Baron von Stillfried and Adolfo Farsari. And as it says in an old Japanese encyclopedia called "The Wakan Sansai Dzuye", "Fuji never looks the same."

Dangoor decided to sell the prints individually and sold six prints during the fair, plus a Harold Edgerton. She shared the booth with Caroline Markovic, the latter selling a few smaller things. Dangoor and Markovic have an exhibition coming up at the latter's gallery in Paris, l'Atelier d'Artistes, with works from the 1960s by Czech artist Stepan Bohumil, who reworked old photographs, made collages and drawings in a surreal, madcap way. The exhibition is on June 18th to July 6th.

There was more Japan material with Maggs Bros. Ltd. This was street photography by Kineo Kuwabara from the mid 1930s, and the images were absolutely fascinating, "Mogas" and "Mobos", that is, western influenced, young fashionistas, Geishas in street markets, newspaper sellers, modernist views of train stations, etc. Kuwabara effectively gave up his own photography after the war, to promote others as a magazine editor and critic. Araki championed his photography in the 1970s, and the two of them even did a show together. This was the first time that Kuwabara's images were shown in the West, and they were large exhibition prints made in the 80s and 90s. Maggs Bros. offered them as a collection of 193 prints. Selling the collection at a small at the fair was a pretty tall order but the work was seen and got a lot of attention in the media.

Ambrotypist Jonathan Keys at work.
Ambrotypist Jonathan Keys at work.

Pablo Butcher had taken a table at the very back buying, selling prints, albums and ephemera. Sadly, a small album of images of China was stolen, and we all felt terrible for him. He had a wonderful group of small, French cyanotypes, sculpture, marble heads, fireplaces, and so wonderful that I had to buy a couple.

Close by, Ian Burr had taken a table, and I was extremely impressed with a group of four ambrotypes of Scottish soldiers. Real presence.

I had brought a selection that perhaps wasn't typical for the fair, and I did better than I expected, with 1960s British fashion, documentary photography and a little thematic collection that I called "Death, Murder and Mayhem". I sold the lower priced items steadily throughout the two days but the more expensive pieces, by Erwin Blumenfeld, Angus McBean and others, remained unsold.

Richard Meara's booth was right next to me, and he had what was probably the gem of the fair. A Julia Margaret Cameron "Annie Chinery Cameron and Two Unknown Children", 1870-1872. The only other known print of this is cropped version, cabinet size. This was whole plate. And unsurprisingly, it sold very quickly.

In the other aisle, Linus Carr was doing swift business with Lou Landauer photograms from the 1930s, and images by Roger Fenton, Cecil Beaton, Martin Munkácsi and others. Across from him, Bruno Tartarin, Adnan Sezer and Serge Kakou had set up a long table and there was splendid material on offer.

Tartarin told me afterwards, "I sold about 100 pounds worth to people I hadn't seen before, 200 to other dealers, 2500 to a French collector I have known for 20 years, and other deals totaling 23,500. But I could have made those deals without coming to London."

Tartarin and the rest of the exhibitors had all hoped to see more visitors, new people. The fair was right next door to Photo London and it had had a lot of media attention, plus a very effective Instagram campaign conducted by Daniella Dangoor, so we couldn't figure out why the fair didn't get more visitors. It seemed even less than the previous year. And then the word spread. The security guards at King's College were not only rude and unfriendly, they also turned people away, saying, "This is a private event". The promoter should have dealt with this straight away. I guess we'll never know how many curators, long-time collectors and first-time buyers were turned away during those two days. A real shame.

Michael Diemar is a London-based collector and consultant. He is also editor-in-chief of The Classic, a new free magazine about classic photography. He is a long-time writer about the photography scene, writing extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.