| Art

Photo London at Somerset House 

A review of Photo London 2024

‘Once again, Photo London presents a compelling showcase of photography in all its brilliantly varied guises — a vibrant overview of the most influential and widely enjoyed medium of our times.’
The language, quoted from Photo London’s founders, Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, might apply to any post-exhibition statement, but in this case, the praise was valid.

Photo London returned to Somerset House for its ninth edition in late May, bringing together more than 120 exhibitors from around the globe to present a dazzling array of images from the dawn of the medium to groundbreaking contemporary experiments.

This year’s fair presented over 400 photographers from more than 30 countries. Works ranged from the personal to the political; from social documentary to the glamour of fashion, music and travel; and from the everyday poetic through to constructed images exploring photography’s complicated reflection of the human psyche in our post-truth era.

Justine Tjallinks, ‘Oscuro’.

Discerning visitors were drawn to the mysterious ‘Oscuro’, by Justine Tjallinks, a dreamy monochromatic portrait of a woman in white. Others were fascinated by the subtle treatment of the tragic migration crisis in Aida Silvestri’s ‘Even this will pass’, where the blurred face of a trafficked Eritrean woman is bisected by a red line annotating a map of her travelling route, hand-stitched onto the print surface, representing the complexity of her voyage.

Aida Silvestri. ‘Even this will pass’

Clay Perry’s portrait of Yoko Ono holding a glass bowl sat comfortably on the floor by a fireplace, thus giving the sitter an air of intriguing serenity; whereas the ‘Floodzone’ shot by Anastasia Samoylova, gave viewers an alternative take on our global climate emergency, with random details of the effects of Hurricane Irma on the Florida coast of the US.

Clay Perry, Portrait of Yoko Ono

Some of the highlights include significant solo presentations by women photographers past and present, including 20th-century greats Helen Levitt (whose rare colour photography was on show) and Lee Miller, in addition to contemporary luminaries such as Jacquie Maria Wessels and Siân Davey.

Charlotte Jansen curated the Discovery section introducing Positions, a participation of unrepresented artists supported by collectors and patrons featuring artists who interrogate and explore beauty. The section was underlined by a regional focus on Turkey, with eight galleries participating, including Galeri Nev Istanbul and Versus Art Project.

The exceptional French photographer, Valérie Belin, who has done so much to shape the medium, is Photo London Master of Photography 2024. She showcased Silent Stories, spanning more than three decades of her work.

The fair’s celebration of French photography continued into the past with The Magic Art of French Calotype, an exhibition curated by Robert Hershkowitz, who for the first time presented the beauty of these works to a UK audience.

The history of the medium was further explored by a display of British pioneers, including Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron and William Henry Fox Talbot. Early fashion-portrait photography was presented by Roland Belgrave Vintage Photography.

Guiding viewers into the future, the coming generation of photographers could be glimpsed at the Hahnemühle Student Awards, showing outstanding works by students enrolled in photography degrees at UK universities.

A glorious surprise was the monumental Amazogramas installation by the great Peruvian photographer Roberto Huarcaya, represented by Rolf Art. Another was a special installation by Gilbert McCarragher, based on Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.

The 2024 Talks Programme, curated by Thames & Hudson, brought together an eclectic range of dozens of absorbing events, presented by Charlotte Jansen, Nikon, FT Weekend and the Prix Pictet, among others. Speakers included Valérie Belin, Martin Parr, Howard Greenberg on the legacy of Saul Leiter, Joy Gregory on Black Women Photographers in 1980s–’90s Britain, David Campany and Lee Shulman of The Anonymous Project and Magnum photographer and photojournalist Peter van Agtmael in conversation with journalist Sean O’Hagan.

Photo London at Somerset House ran from the 15-19 May 2024
Words and images by Julio Etchart

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