Photo London / Self Publish Be Happy

Photo London was a slightly overwhelming experience, a vast display of photography from over seventy different commercial galleries presented in the impressive space of Somerset House.

Stepping into the tight warren or roofs and corridors, after the grand space of the central courtyard – the most impressive space in central London ? – I pulled out my notebook and started scribbling down notes in black-spider script.

Inevitably the images I saw earlier in the day had the biggest impact, the sheer number and range of photography on show packed into the warren on rooms and corridors began to have a numbing effect as the day wore on. What, yet another Margaret Cameron photo? So the following notes probably reflect my initial excitement than a truly objective list of the fair’s highlights.

So bearing this in mind, Thomas Zander was the lucky gallery to be the one I stumbled across first and got the full weight of my appreciation, un-dimmed by niggles about my aching feet or regrets about wearing quite such a warm jacket. Lewis Baltz ‘Sites of Technology’- large-scale photographs of sparse, sterile rooms filled with monolithic, featureless boxes housing unspecified technology – the antithesis of sci-fi tech with its fetish for complexity; flashing lights and and cat’s cradle cables – here whatever computing is going on is hidden behind clean lines and slightly incongruous pastel pinks and powder blues. In one shot [*], two cheap plastic electric desk-fans sit on the floor beside a row no-doubt highly expensive servers – a few dollars protecting how many thousands?

The accents betrayed the hot-beds of contemporary art photography scene – French, Japanese, American. Gallery people – all air kisses and West London wealth.

The whole experience was like the compilation albums, a greatest hits collection bringing together all the big names of photography past and present – Now That’s What I Call Photography 2015. But like those albums, after a while it all seemed a bit too much. I began to long for a display with a narrower range but more depth – room to explore a photographer or an idea, to follow something through to a conclusion. Album tracks rather than a succession of hit singles.

By the time I made it to the Mezzanine level photography fatigue was beginning to set in – and perhaps that explained why I found the quality on this level seem to dip considerably. There were still gems, Eva Stenram’s ‘Drape (Colour 1)’ [*] made me think of clumsy censorship but also John Stezaker’s surreal photo-collages. Another highlight was Noemie Goudal‘s large-scale images of natural phenomena sculpted out of man-made materials – a polystyrene waterfall, a waterfall formed from plastic sheeting. They look majestic, and obviously throw up questions about how man spoils his environment, but they also elevate the materials themselves.

With the fashion for large scale, hyper-detailed prints it would have been easy to miss Karl Martin Holzhauser‘s Mechanical Optische Unterschung 1975 – a grid of ghostly symbols [*], which despite being in black and white, looked strangely modern – although that may just be because they reminded me of the buttons on the Playstation controller.

Photo London
Somerset House
21st – 24th May 2015

Self Publish Be Happy – Project Space
Tate Modern

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