by Zahra KhanOct 12, 2023
As international art and cultural fairs and events continue to find their footing in the post-pandemic world, with many opting for hybrid viewing formats bringing the physical and the virtual to a growing audience, Photo London is set to return this September for its sixth edition at the Somerset House in London. The experience will be two-fold i.e., physical event from September 8 to 12 and digital viewing from September 9 to 28, as one can expect in the wake of the ever-changing restrictions of the times, but the fair it seems is all set to bring a curated exhibit of iconic photography, workshops, and programming. Having learned from the weight carried by the digital space via the previous virtual edition of Photo London 2020, it seems as though founders Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad are planning on maximising the virtual, making it an important pillar of the Photo London property moving forward. “Building on the success of Photo London Digital, we’ll offer a highly effective digital platform for those unable to travel. The digital footprint will also touch other aspects of the operation – from online talks and events to a shift away from print for such items as signage, catalogues, invitation, and tickets. In addition, the success of our Academy means that we work with our exhibitors throughout the year, rather than just the five days of the Fair.”
As the first photography festival to exhibit in the post-pandemic cultural landscape, Photo London is certainly set to pave the way for the future of more such events. Yet, the enthusiastic embrace of the virtual seems to be coming with its fair share of challenges namely ‘webinar- fatigue’ or ‘virtual fatigue’, a growing phenomenon that’s been a by-product of the dominance of virtual events – talks, viewings, workshops and concerts. As a larger chunk of contemporary life seems to be moving online, we are also seeing more and more people opting for ‘digital detoxes’, this certainly will be an important issue to consider as Photo London designs its upcoming programming and exhibition. Questions of experience, engagement, aesthetics, and sensorial experience will certainly arise for the Photo London team. However, despite the restrictions we still have a five-day physical exhibit to look forward to and an impressive list of names exhibiting.
Ghanaian master photographer, James Barnor, who is currently showcasing his retrospective exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery is foremost among a list of both prolific and emerging artists such as Benji Reid, Alexis Peskine, Romuald Hazoumè, Guido Guidi, Mark Ruwedel and more. Barnor’s work is best known for depicting the lives of ordinary Africans in both the diasporic community in the UK and back home in his native Ghana. The photographer adopts a fluid format moving from portraits to photojournalism to other forms of photographic genres including fashion and music. The easy informality and candidness of his images have remained a signature throughout his body of work. Creating an interesting conversation with Barnor’s work will be emerging photographer’s Benji Reid’s political depiction of the black British experience. A counter-narrative to the existing portrayal, Reid explores the lives and the space held by black men, examining complex issues of fragility, gender norms, mental health and more. Much of this work arises from personal curiosity for the artist who pays particular attention to the play of light and shadow in his still photography.
As part of the programming is the Photo London’s extremely popular Discovery Section that brings forth emerging talent and galleries. This year’s edition features Black Box Projects “especially for their contemporary artists who apply historic photographic techniques to create innovative and unique works of art,” says the team. Among the artists presenting is American photographer, artist, and filmmaker Joni Sternbach, who is known for her portrait-based work exploring thematics of identity - private and familial, domesticity, sexuality, the body, and more. Throughout her career, Sternbach has experimented with historic photographic processes as a way of exploring visual narratives, namely for her the wet plate collodion tintype portraits of surfers and surfboards from around the world. Another interesting draw will be AI Gallery’s Fiona Ones, who works with photography and pointillistic needle drawings on paper. Much of Ones’ work explores reality and the way one perceives and experiences, they ask one to rise above the ‘white noise’ of the daily to something sublime. The intricate nature of the artist’s work, the minutiae that calls in the viewer’s attention speaks to a sense of patience, time, perseverance but also balance of tempers in a meditative visual depiction.
Keeping in mind the travel restrictions and the ever-changing regulations of the post-pandemic world, Photo London 2021 has played it safe ensuring that the entire fair is available virtually catering to those who perhaps won’t be able to travel for the physical event. While this is certainly convenient, one can’t help but wonder if it won’t take away from the flavour of the exhibit and if we just might miss on the sensorial evocativeness of some of the most diverse and poignant works of the times.