Just as Photo London was about to open its doors, it seemed that AI was about to blow everything up (again) after an eerie black-and-white image created entirely through prompts (no light capture) won the Sony World Photography Awards. German artist Boris Eldagsen, who co-created The Electrician with DALLE, said his entry to the Sony world photography awards was designed to provoke debate. A terrifying leap beyond the supposed frame, could this moment signal the end of this genre as we know it? Don’t be ridiculous. A trip to Photo London was the perfect reminder that fine art photography – and promptography – is healthier than ever. A showcase to the excellent talent of so many creatives, not only does this fair bring together some of the top galleries in the world with a collateral lineup of talks, 2023’s stellar public programme of exhibitions was a timely celebration of the best of British photography.
Alongside a solo show of new work by this year’s Master of Photography Martin Parr, was the much-lauded ‘Writing her own Script. Women Photographers from the Hyman Collection’, highlighting many of the pioneering women photographers at work in Britain over the last 100 years. One of the most significant collections of British Photography in the world, The Hyman Collection began in 1996 and consists of over three thousand artworks with a focus on photography in Britain. Taking its name from a large-scale photograph by Susan Hiller, the exhibition charts a course from the 1930s to the present. It provides an overview of photography in Britain that focuses on two strands: a humanistic documentary tradition and a more personal, performative practice. Helpfully, it gives viewers an important logic to collecting and signposts names to recognise within the fair itself.
Here are a few highlights found whilst walking the fair with fellow journalist and poet Paul Carey-Kent:
“Images-Forests: World in Expansion,” screen print, birch leaf pigments. © Lea Habourdin
French artist Léa Habourdin, winner of the 2023 Photo London x Nikon Emerging Photographer Award for her series “Images-Forests: World in Expansion”, is represented by Fisheye Gallery, Paris. She has spent the last two years documenting four rare and secret places located in France, protected to preserve their integrity, to which she was given special access. Following foresters and conservators on this peripatetic residency, she then made four anthotypes, prints created with the light-sensitive chlorophyll, which is extracted from plants. Each work is living, and vanishing with constant exposure, reflecting the disappearance of wild spaces but also our need to reduce footprints. Showing at Photo London was a collateral series in silkscreen printed onto velutto cotton paper. These were made from elements she found in the forest – birch leaves, thyme and mulberries, for example – crushed into natural pigments. Whilst her durational projects are rooted in the scientific process of studying concrete facts, they also open our minds to the many unexpected ways we might address our relationship with nature and the production of art.
Born in Mozambique, Mário Macilau is represented by Ed Cross Fine Art and lives and works in Maputo. His stunning black and white portraits combine the drama of photojournalism with a masterful sense of composition and minimalism. His images are raw, powerful and incredibly beautiful. Macilau specialises in long-term photography projects and series that address the complex realities of human labour and environmental conditions. Macilau started his journey as a photographer in 2003 from the streets of Maputo, becoming professional when he traded his mother’s cell phone for his first camera in 2007.
One might say that the artist Polly Penrose is having a moment. Four of her now iconic, early works were on display in ‘Writing her own Script. Women Photographers from the Hyman Collection’, and four of her more recent – and more confronting – works were showing at Messums Photography (part of the Arts enterprise founded by Johnny Messum in 2016). Penrose has been taking self-portraits on a ten-second timer and, more recently, a remote for nearly 20 years. Whilst her work is unpremeditated, it looks staged for all its drama. What we are actually seeing is the record of her spontaneous response to the environment whilst naked. A kind of double exposure – of the self and the moment – her work explores the incongruous: vulnerability and empowerment, comedy and tragedy, beauty and the profane. Unafraid to use her body as an instrument in performance, pushed into a space or subsumed by materials, she highlights the truth of how we are all trying to shapeshift to fit into this world.
The photographer Sarah Moon has won critical acclaim for the paired-down elegance and elusive narrative of her images. Now in her early 80s, Moon is regarded as one of France’s best fashion photographers working today. This image comes from Dior by Sarah Moon,
published by Delpire & Co, the publishing house founded by Moon’s late partner Robert Delpire. An exquisite three-volume publication, it follows Moon’s visual explorations into three distinct phases of the legendary fashion house. Moon was showing with the Michael Hoppen Gallery London alongside a selection of greatest hits by household names like Tim Walker, Masahisa Fukase, and Bill Brandt. https://photolondon.org/exhibitors/2023-2/carysmichaelhoppengallery-com/
One of the pioneers of the digital revolution, Jeffery Becton, is a visual artist who has lived and maintained a studio in Deer Isle, Maine since 1977. Combining primarily elements of photography as well as painting, drawing, and scanned materials, Becton’s painterly style is complex and beguiling. Featuring surreal, ghostly architecture, breached and weathered by the elements, his images captivate with a soft, desaturated palette that keys into our nostalgia. There is a sense of an unfinished ending that draws you into each frame. “The techniques I use foster visual ambiguities, re-examining the boundaries of mixed media and creating altered realities that merge into images rich in symbols both personal and archetypal,” Becton explains. Flooded with watery light, these uncanny images portray empty spaces with walls peeling like skin or marked by the tide; they speak to an awareness of climate anxiety, memory and loss. Becton is showing with Koman Fine Art, Vero Beach, in association with AH STUDIO, London.
Born in Düsseldorf, Andreas Gefeller belongs to a generation who followed the great Dusseldorf school of artist photographers, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, and Axel Hütte, who defined the genre in the 90s. His photographic practice centres around the camera’s ability to reveal the fragmented nature of perception. In his latest series, The Other Side of Light (2017-), Gefeller zooms in on natural phenomena and repeating patterns – water reflections, clouds, the leaves of a tree. Unlike his previous urban series, by isolating these ephemeral, natural structures, he points us to that which is overlooked. Light becomes a tool to show the limitations of vision by blurring the content of his images with brightness – some through overexposure and some through image manipulation. The artist considers how light can eliminate extraneous detail in an image to allow the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps. “My works could be visualisations for processes for which we don’t have pictures – because they are invisible, just digital processes, they somehow just happen theoretically but not in our daily visible life… Who knows what the ‘cloud’ looks like? The internet? Digital communication? Artificial intelligence?” says Gefeller. In London, he shows with Atlas Gallery was founded in 1994 and is one of the foremost galleries worldwide dealing exclusively in photography.
One of the best things about Photo London is the books; this year’s discovery was Jane & Jeremy, who started publishing artists’ editions in 2006 in London, UK. Since then, they have bought together both established and up-and-coming photographers and artists in beautifully crafted limited-edition artists’ books. Artists included in their collection are Delaney Allen, Mark Borthwick, Guy Bourdin, Jason Evans, Erin O’Keefe, Cole Flynn Quirke, Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck, Ola Rindal, Henry Roy, Jordan Sullivan, Véronique Rolland and Emilie Lindsten, among others. Now based in Brighton, they have a studio and shop called The Bookend, which showcases their publications alongside other specialist titles from independent publishers and artists’ books.
Words and Photos: Nico Kos-Earle ©Artlyst 2023