From Erwin Olaf to Letha Wilson, 15 Trailblazing Photographers at Amsterdam’s Unseen Photo
The fourth edition of Amsterdam’s Unseen Photo fair opens its doors on Friday. Founded in part by Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, the quality of the stock presented by the fair’s 54 galleries this year mirrors its institutional origins. Below, we’ve pulled out 15 highlights, representing some of the most progressive approaches to the medium right now—and which include a surprising number of artists fusing photography and sculpture in their practice.
The daughter of engineers, Hammond grew up in England amongst blueprints and drawings, developing an early awareness of her urban industrial landscape. Today, the post-industrial British landscape is a prominent focus of her work—particularly, her sculptural-photo series, “Bermuda Grass,” on view at Unseen—which sees crumpled vegetation springing from the seams of sleek, white bathroom tiles, not unlike the weeds cropping up in the deteriorating urban terrain.
De Joode’s subjects are the textures and visceral effects of organic materials. In her hand, images of skin, molten lava, and meteorites transform into towering sculptures that resemble rock formations, are cropped with undulating edges to recall blobs of goo, or are buried into slabs of marble. They propose a world in which organic and manmade objects fuse, and where reality and representation are indistinguishable from one another.
In the past, Kruithof has sought out sweat as subject matter—soaked, post-workout t-shirts, or sweaty bodies mid-exertion—as the tangible manifestations of stress. At Unseen, the Dutch photographer will debut “#EVIDENCE,” a series combining screenshots from the Instagram accounts of American corporations and government agencies (think confiscated weapons posted by TSA workers or rainbows posted by the White House and NASA) that have been re-photographed, retouched, and re-contextualized.
Albdorf’s staged photographs, festooned with digital manipulations, unlock objects’ strange, humorous characteristics. By placing them in unexpected environments, painting them with splashes of unnatural color, or topping them with accoutrements unrelated to their original purpose, Albdorf decontextualizes his cast of materials—creating a new language of signifiers related to both the history of photography (still life, landscape) and internet-based image culture.
Inka & Niclas train their lens on landscapes around the world, capturing the awe that nature inspires through reverential manipulations of their surroundings. Clouds of colorful smoke suspend over seascapes, and the maws of deep caves are tinctured with uncanny—but inviting—purples and yellows. Even straightforward images of tree stumps and waves glow with energy.
Residing in Qatar, Christto & Andrew—born in Puerto Rico and South Africa, respectively—glean inspiration from their Middle Eastern surroundings. After joining forces in 2009 while studying abroad in Barcelona, the duo moved to Doha to capture contemporary Arabic culture and Qatari society—but don’t expect traditional documentary from these two. Their views are realized in exaggerated colors and staged compositions.
De Vries draws on the vocabulary of Photoshop tools and Tumblr feeds for works that read as palimpsests for the Internet age. His flat photographs and multimedia installations layer imagery—both found and staged—related to consumerism, surveillance, branding, the body, and digital manipulation and dissemination.
In dreamlike landscapes, young Russian photographer Arbugaeva recalls her childhood spent within the Arctic Circle—particularly, in the now-barren sea town Tiksi, where the aurora borealis would forever inspire her fascination with light. At Unseen, she’ll show photographs from Tiksi as well as a series shot in Arctic outpost Khodovarikha, in which the life and soul of remote meteorologist Vyacheslav Korotki is conveyed through images—a weather radio, a deserted lighthouse—presenting his solitary existence in dark, moody photographs with magical light.
Each summer, Wilson heads west to photograph the desert landscape. She brings her film back to New York, where she transforms the majestic images into sculptures by folding them, suturing them together, or submerging their corners in concrete forms. Her experiments yield tactile meditations on the complex relationship between urban and natural environments.
Goudal often creates imaginary landscapes using paper backdrops, where fiction, reality, earth, and human intervention converge in layered illusions. In addition to currently being included in a group show at the Azerbaijan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the French artist is soon to open a solo exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.
Following Photo Shanghai, where Olaf’s works were a highlight of the fair—including his seductive, cinematic portraits of models posing in 1960s-style hotel rooms—the Dutch photographer will host fairgoers from Unseen on his home soil, opening up his Amsterdam studio for an artist talk and private viewing. One could expect to find the staged tableaus he’s perfected since the ’80s, marrying his journalism roots with dramatic, classical narratives that engage with contemporary issues (taboos, social conventions) under the pretense of a beautiful image.
For MacLean’s “Hometowns” series, he expanded on a line from his own notebook: “Photograph the hometowns of your heroes.” The prompt turned into a 65-image visualization of the environments where his idols—like John Baldessari, Gabriel Orozco, and Bridget Riley—were raised. As in all of MacLean’s images, the results read as intimate, equalizing meditations on the everyday environments that surround us—even those who have become legendary.
Jules, Samuel, Henry, Brian, Charlie, Bri—these are but a few of the subjects seen smoking, drinking, lounging, and alluring in “Connotations,” Japanese photographer Ishibashi’s black-and-white, predominantly homoerotic images that will debut at Unseen. Over the past year, Ishibashi has collaborated with American poet Wim Harms (both are based in Lille, France) to create this series of photographs inspired by the boys described in Harms’s poems.
De Ridder’s gauzy landscapes conjure the sublime—and it’s the transcendent, psychological effects of nature that inform his work. While many of his images capture his native Netherlands, he is also an itinerant photographer, tracking the mystical qualities of skylines from Switzerland to the American West. He was first introduced to photography through his father’s habit of developing vacation film in his childhood bathroom—de Ridder thought the process was magical, and this sense of wonder continues to permeate his process.
A former architectural photographer, Belgian artist Dujardin now creates his own fictional structures. Though he began by using Photoshop to alter images of buildings taken in his hometown, Ghent, Dujardin has since moved on to create 3D models—first with his children’s Legos, and later with 3D modeling—which he photographs and layers with fragments of existing buildings. A precarious L-shared building with a nonsensical cantilever caught the attention of the Met, now owner of two Dujardin photographs.
—Alexxa Gotthardt and Molly Gottschalk