At Photo Shanghai, a Blend of Vintage Icons and International Up-and-Comers

This week Photo Shanghai opens its doors to a predominantly Chinese crowd of collectors, not to mention throngs of photography enthusiasts. Open through Sunday, the fledgling fair occupies the central halls of Shanghai Exhibition Center, located amidst West Nanjing Road’s glamorous roster of designer brands—a fitting address given the fair’s heavy nod to fashion photography. Voguish icons aside, the fair is known for high-quality curated presentations. 

Now in its second year, Photo Shanghai differs from its fellow art week participants, including West Bund Art & Design and Art in the City, by virtue of its foreign organizers. Managed by UK-based global platform World Photography Organisation, it’s the biggest fair of the bunch, as well as the most international. Collectors aside, for Shanghai’s army of amateur photographers—be they DSLR-wielding locals or social media pros—Photo Shanghai will rank high on the weekend’s agenda.

Kicking things off is a special showcase of Taryn Simon’s “Birds of The West Indies,” brought to Shanghai by Gagosian Gallery for the series’ Asia debut. The work was inspired by a 1936 taxonomy from an ornithologist named James Bond. Birdwatcher Ian Fleming deemed the name fittingly “anonymous. . . a blunt instrument in the hands of the government,” and went on to use it for the protagonist of his now-legendary series. Conflating the two narratives, Simon’s inventory of the films’ women, weapons, and vehicles is utterly compelling, and a highlight of what’s on show.

The fair proper spans 47 galleries representing 14 countries. Fashion-themed photography is a mainstay, courtesy of Berlin’s CAMERA WORK (think Michel Comte’s stunning images of models Alek Wek and Iman) and Taipei’s Bluerider ART, featuring Nick Veasey’s x-rays of frocks by the likes of Lanvin and Alexander McQueen. In a similar vein and ahead of a major retrospective opening this weekend, Gallery Magda Danysz previews a number of works by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf. And, amid a kind of sponsors’ corridor that precedes the fair, are glossy, stylized images by recently appointed Hublot brand ambassador, Chen Man.


Other highlights from Europe include Zurich’s Galerie & Edition Stephan Witschi, showcasing an intimate history of family portraits by Bjørn Sterri; his framed black-and-white prints start from $3,500. Be sure to seek out Copenhagen’s In The Gallery, particularly Carsten Ingemann’s seductive twilight images; a c-print from the artist’s “Creatures of the Night” (2012) series is priced at $8,000. 

Vintage photography is well-represented, if largely predictable. Think Man Ray, Lee Miller, and Cecil Beaton in a wide range of editions and prices. Especially noteworthy are pieces by Gustave Le Gray and Henri Cartier-Bresson at Galerie Adnan Sezer, including works by the latter from 1948 and 1949, taken in Shanghai and Beijing. Captured at the cusp of change, the images continue to resonate with China’s complex past.

Chinese galleries at Photo Shanghai include Shanghai stalwarts such as C14 Gallery, M97 Gallery, and ART LABOR—which boasts works by a trio of Western artists, Christy Lee Rogers, Greg Girard, and Eric Leleu, whose “Subtitles” series continues to garner interest from an international crowd. The works are inspired by China’s ubiquitous red banners, hung by local governments and proclaiming messages of social improvement. Satirized by Leleu, they become a clever, if controversial, document of change.

At Beijing’s Pékin Fine Arts, Zhang Xiao presents an altogether quieter take on similarly contentious issues. His Envelope Series (2010) chronicles the artist’s photo-journalistic career through printed hóngbāo: anonymous envelopes containing cash incentives given to journalists in China in exchange for favorable press coverage. Just opposite is A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, which focuses on Chengdu-based artists, including established Lang Li and up-and-coming Xiaoyi Chen.


A final highlight is a special exhibition by China-based arts magazine LEAP, including Tianzhuo Chen’s trippy video installation, Paradi$e Bitch (2014). All lurid colors and unrestrained garishness, it’s deliciously shameless. While it also features Peng Yangjun’s bizarre-yet-compelling 2014 “Face-kini” series, this pavilion offers great insight into contemporary Chinese photography.


—Frances Arnold


Explore Photo Shanghai 2015 on Artsy.

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