Photo London Digital Curated Picks – Week 2
Discover this week’s curated picks by Emma Bowkett, Director of Photography at the FT Weekend Magazine, Francis Hodgson, Professor in the Culture of Photography, University of Brighton, Alona Pardo, Curator, Barbican Centre, and Helene Love-Allotey, Modern and Contemporary African Art Specialist, Bonhams. Scroll down for last week’s picks by Duncan Forbes, Director of Photography at the V&A, Marta Weiss, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A, Azu Nwagbogu, Director of the African Artists’ Foundation and Lagos Photo Festival, and art advisor Nick Campbell, Founder of Narcissus Arts and Campbell Art and Photo London Ambassador.
Director of Photography at the FT Weekend Magazine
Visiting the Discovery section at Photo London has become a highlight for me. Since 2017 it has been my go- to place to see new work and be introduced to artists from across the world. Former curator Tristan Lund, who skilfully curated the space from the start, once described "I’m looking for galleries to exhibit vision and integrity." Someone recently described it to me recently as the “golden section”. I feel I must agree.
The Discovery this year features some of my favourite artists and returning galleries, some of whom I have had the pleasure to work with, but in keeping with the theme, my selection shows only new artists I have discovered here in 2020. I find myself drawn to intimate narratives that explore family history; the ethereal quality of Alexia Fiasco fictional family album, the concept of absence and loss present in Sara Sallam’s moving work about her grandmother, and Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee’s longing to reconnect with her Chinese heritage through photographs and memories restaged.
While Candice Jewell’s wonderfully sculpted self-portraits subvert the gendered gaze, Liz Calvi’s cinematic mise-en-scenes provide a provocative critique of the constructed self. Thandiwe Muriu brings playful colour and energy to celebrate her story of Africa, female creativity and strength and Yannis Davy Guibinga, drawing from mythology, evokes a powerful portrait of Abuk- the first woman elevated to divine status.
I return often to the delicate early colour work of Yichia Liao, and the fabulous collage work of Nicolas Feldmeyer. Finally, Ingrid Weyland’s beautifully constructed landscapes display her personal relationship to nature and the devastating environmental damage caused by human intervention.
Professor in the Culture of Photography, University of Brighton
Well, you don’t come to Photo London for an orderly progression by subject, by technique, by theme, by country or by date. You don’t come to PhotoLondon for anything orderly at all. You come to see things out of the corner of your eye and be driven back hours later, unable to shake them. You come to scrawl names on bits of paper that you then can’t read in five minutes. You come to make that gesture across a crowd ‘I’ll call; let’s call ! ’ as you turn to your friend bleating ‘Who was that ?’ If you can make order out of the chaos of PhotoLondon you’re probably reading the press releases. You want to be blown away, make mistakes, make discoveries, unmake them. And look at a lot of pictures in one big building.
It’s a little sad doing this online. It’s better behaved; more corporate, somehow. Less raucous. Above all, you aren’t seeing prints. No matter how good the enlargement, no matter how useful the slidey thing that shows you how big it is on a wall, you’re still seeing pixels. For some pictures, we know that doesn’t matter. If you’re only interested in what’s in the picture, the stuff it’s actually made of isn’t your problem. You like cars? Buy a poster of a Corvette. You like James Barnor’s cheeky commerical job for AGIP in Accra at some date in the 70s? You’re going to have to buy the print. Those lovely faded reds, the surface of the print, the weight of the paper. Why cheeky? Because Barnor was doing a job for somebody else, but he used his own car. It’s plastered in stickers for Agfa, and who held the Agfa concession in Accra? J. Barnor, Esq. As a matter of fact, that one is modern re-print, although one lovingly done for the full flavour. I found a platinum print of Ely Cathedral by Frederick Evans which is maybe a little trite as a view, but like a fugue in its stately progression of values. Still on architecture, but bouncing to the contemporary, I found a triptych of one of the buildings in Smithfield, the long-fading meat market in the middle of London, consistently eyed up by property developers for a generation or more. It’s by Shubha Taparia, and the whole point is the beautiful classical drapery of that green nylon netting that builders like. It billows and creases like a pair of silk stockings on a elderly patroness of the Met.
Curator, Barbican Centre
Photography has an unparalleled capacity to reflect and communicate ideas, visually and directly, about the world in which we live and that agency has taken on a renewed sense of urgency in light of our current culture wars, from racial and gender politics and social activism to the precarity and importance of home and community in light of our recent confinement. The power of images to imagine, represent and reflect identities and embody our individual and collective desires has taken on new meaning over the last six months and so my selection is rooted in my search for works that speak to this new and heightened reality.
At Goodman Gallery, David Goldblatt’s searing yet quiet photographs that chronicle the erasure of Fietas through the 1970s, an area previously reserved for People of Colour – Africans and Indians – none of whom had the vote, remind us of the social injustices inflicted by the apartheid state while Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s 6-year photographic project that documented the infamous Johannesburg skyscraper Ponte City speaks to the relationship between architecture, equity and humanity. Also at Goodman Gallery, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s moving testament to the life and disappearance of his sister in his ongoing series I Carry Her Photo With Me is an attempt to trace and record his sister’s life by photographing places where she lingered, like the clothesline in the family’s backyard where her garments gently billow in the wind.
Mickaelene Thomas’s work (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right, 2006 – which takes its title from an R&B song about male infidelity - presents a relaxed fully nude woman staring directly to camera and speaks of race, sexuality and female power. While Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s dynamic fully nude self-portrait made in the studio reflects on his own Black male body as a site for a profoundly layered exploration of gender, desire and homoerotic fantasy. This work was recently included in the exhibition Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery earlier this year which I curated. Pulsating with colour, light and contrast Khalik Allah’s up close and personal portraits document the lives of the African diaspora in New York. A recent Magnum nominee, his intimate and dramatic portraits, lit by the glow of storefronts and largely taken at night, pay homage to street photography while simultaneously reinvigorating the genre.
With a resurgence of ‘masculinist nationalism’ as evidenced by male world leaders shaping their image as ‘strong’ men the world over, Karen Knorr’s sardonic series Gentlemen, 1981-83, which includes the work Men Are More Interested in Power on show at Augusta Edwards Fine Art, reflects on how women and People of Colour have been historically excluded from the corridors of power and invites us to consider ideas of gender, class and patriarchy. Meanwhile Tod Papageorge’s Kodachrome street photographs of New York through the 1960s indirectly reference the counterculture and Women’s Lib movement of the time. The casual camaraderie of the five women (well within the rule of 6) perched on a street curb reminds me a freedom of movement that is currently denied us and speaks to a moment of solidarity.
As our homes morph into workplaces and playgrounds, I want to end with Rolph Gobits playful images of Judy Moxon performing her extraordinary and highly acrobatic cabaret act of foot juggling – no matter how long I stay at home I’ll never master this!
Modern and Contemporary African Art Specialist, Bonhams
Through the process of selecting my highlights from this year’s edition of Photo London, I’ve come to realise that I’m a lover of portraiture. Ranging from sincere, intimate and absurd.
Photo London is a fab opportunity to see the work of familiar photographers’ and to discover new ones. Jules Allen is a totally new name to me and I’m in love with the simple elegance of the workman he depicts. On the flipside, through my own work as a Specialist of Modern & Contemporary African Art, I’ve been lucky enough to be acquainted first-hand with several of Zanele Muholi’s striking self-portraits. Then there’s James Barnor, who I’ve met personally and feel I have a special connection with. A charming and brilliant man, I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves at the age of 91. In a similar vein Arlene Gottfried and Vivian Maier’s street photography only gained significant prominence when Gottfried was in her 50s, and Maier after her death. These women have pumped out some incredible shots.
Aperture’s presentation of contemporary photographers' Arielle Bobb-Willis and Campbell Addy felt fresh and exciting, with lovely use of colour. It was super hard to select just one of Raúl Canibãno's photographs, his unique perspective of Cuban life captures its sleepless energy. Finally the surreal and quirky nature of the works I’ve selected by Tim Walker and Tania Franco-Klein just make me want to experiment more with a camera!
Photo London Digital Curated Picks – Week 1
DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
This year may be more a scroll than a stroll through Photo London, but nonetheless some great photographs catch the eye.
African photography continues its unstoppable ascendancy, as in the playful fashion imagery of the self-taught Kenyan photographer, Thandiwe Muriu, or the intensely personal documentary practice of South African, Lindokuhle Sobekwa . For many exhibitors, the move to abstraction is strong, as are ecological motifs, seen respectively in the differently elemental pursuits of Hideo Anze or Douglas Mandry. Jorma Puranen and Miho Kajioka bring together both themes, evoking powerfully what might be described as the nature of the photographic object. Photographs I couldn’t get out of my mind include Mitch Epstein’s juxtaposed baby and jumbo jet at Kennedy Airport, Sergio Larrain’s black cat in Valparaiso, or Raúl Cañibano’s kids throwing themselves with gay abandon off the Malecon in Havana, a tonic for our times. Shirin Neshat shows work of immense seriousness, monuments to human struggle and a memory of one of the most important monographic exhibitions from last year. Meanwhile the Britishness of Homer Sykes and Tony Ray Jones is charged by fresh irony as Brexit reaches its tragic denouement.
And, finally, Candida Höfer’s monumental libraries, pictured seemingly beyond emotion or embodiment, capture my attention again as we build our own spectacular space for photo books in the new Photography Centre at the V&A.
SENIOR CURATOR, DEPARTMENT OF PHOTOGRAPHS, VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
My selection is highly personal, informed by my own tastes and experiences, yet made in the context of recent events that have affected us all. In this state of longing and uncertainty, I am drawn to pictures of people, some fragmented and distant, others close and even intimate.
A tiny napping figure is juxtaposed with the hulking buildings of Lower Manhattan in Mitch Epstein’s 1970s streetscape. From today’s perspective, the then-new Twin Towers, stretching beyond the frame, are the most vulnerable thing in the picture. In Ray Metzker’s observations of urban life, humans are often secondary to the geometry of the street. Here, markings on the street itself dwarf a pair of running legs.
In his quickly framed street photographs, Mark Cohen habitually chops the heads off his subjects, homing in on details like the hole in a child’s jumper. The boy may be headless but he is utterly individual, with his clashing patterns and delicately gesturing fingers. A photograph by Frederick Evans shows the bodiless head of a medieval carving against a dark background, as if in negative. In Khalik Allah’s nocturnal street portraits, high contrast and saturated colours give his subjects a sculptural quality.
Sage Sohier explores the relationships between humans and animals. A pair of young men in in Louisiana hold a flower and a rabbit with equal tenderness. More tender still are the protective arms around a toddler from Zora J. Murff’s powerful series on systemic racism in America, ‘At No Point Between’. The human figure is poignantly absent from Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s portraits of his deceased sister, present here through her clothes, hanging on a line.
Finally, Inge Morath’s portrait of a masked Saul Steinberg, photographed outdoors from a safe social distance, is a reminder of the playful side of mask-wearing.
DIRECTOR AFRICAN ARTISTS' FOUNDATION AND LAGOS PHOTO FESTIVAL
2020’s edition of Photo London showcases such strong, diverse and exciting work presented by artists and photographers with galleries from all over the world. It was a tough choice to narrow down a selection of my favourites however I decided to go with the works of artists who use the medium of photography as a tool to re-mediate social context, history and or constructed narrative and contemporary realities. From lively playful aesthetic work like Hassan Hajjaj’s ‘Sistaz’ to thoughtful and provocative work by Joana Choumali whereby she pushes the boundaries of photography and intervenes on her images by stitching and embroidering intricate patterns onto her photographs. Another favourite is Julia Fullerton-Batten whose work strikes a chord and is an example of powerful cinematic creation of work in confinement similar to the situation we have all experienced during the pandemic.
There are a few surprise discoveries like Margaret (Sherie) Ngigi whose work I have only recently come to know and Maya Ines Touam’s brilliant still life assemblages and Alexia Fiasco’s introspective recreation of her family album. Filipe Branquinho’s photography of found objects on the streets of Maputo resonates with certain ideas I am currently working on around the notions of the Home Museum. I love the simple direct style Filipe adopts. It is also important to see the works of the late great Peter Beard and David Goldblatt both of whom gave so much to photography as an art form.
Art advisor, founder of Narcissus Arts and Campbell Art and Photo London ambassador
Back in 2010 I founded the award-winning art advisory Narcissus Arts. With over a decade of experience and in-depth knowledge in collecting all sorts of art at the lower end of the price spectrum, I have become a go-to for people and companies who want to start building a collection. Throughout this period photography has been a medium I have consistently been drawn to - both personally and professionally - so I was thrilled to become an ambassador for Photo London early this year.
Even though the fair is existing purely online this year, it is not to mean that the standard of work on display has diminished in any way. As usual, I have tried to approach the fair in a measured, formulaic manner, keeping in mind what my various clients like to collect - but there was simply too much to distract me. For the lovers of fashion photography, there were works by the likes of Bastiaan Woudt and Frank Horvat. For those looking for a bit of escapism, I would then advise people to consider the landscapes of Edward Burtynsky and Corine Vionnet. For more abstract compositions, Jorma Puranen brings some exceptionally beautiful works that are deeply conceptual, and Chris McCaw displays some technical brilliance. Here are just some of my highlights...