Photo London / Paul Carey Kent: Photo London 2018 reviewed
Two things struck me most about this, the 4th edition of Photo London. First, it was bigger than before, with 144 galleries and 8 large special exhibitions spread around Somerset House, not to mention an extensive talks programme. Hardly any galleries included film, but all the same that’s a lot to absorb in a day! Second, it was as if the Internet didn’t exist: people, landscapes and analogue experimentalism dominated – whether the images were old or new – and works directly related to the online world were pretty much absent. It may be that simply acknowledges the commercial reality of what sells, but it still seemed odd, given how frequently digital and social media drive content in the wider art scene. Setting that aside, however, there was no shortage of interesting material:
Jo Dennis with some of her set of 12 Ladywell Treasures, 2018 (image 1)
Jo Dennis: Ladywell Treasures 8, 2018 at Sid Motion Gallery, London (image 2)
When I reported for Photomonitor on the Unseen Fair at Amsterdam last year, I kicked off with a picture of British artist Jo Dennis, even though she wasn’t in it! This time she had a solo booth with the Sid Motion gallery, concentrating on her ‘Ladywell Treasures’: images of the paint flaked away from an abandoned swimming pool building in South London, which Dennis then adds to by hand. They’re beautiful abstractions out of dereliction which connect to past experience and to the memory of water. I then noticed that, tied in perhaps to its centrality to environmental concerns, there was plenty of more present and visible water in the Fair…
Andreas Gefeller: Untitled (Swimming pool) Düsseldorf, 2008 at Atlas Gallery (image 3)
Sticking to swimming pools, German photographer Andreas Gefeller is known for his ‘Supervisions’ series, which combine hundreds of images through which he scans a patch of ground in great detail. Here he applies the approach to water: you can distinguish the component images by the slightly irregular grid made by their edges, some shots being double size to give the rhythm a slightly wavy syncopation – despite which I reckon this took some 15,000 shots.
Edward Burtynsky: Saw Mills #1, Lagos, Nigeria, 2016 (image 4)
If the Fair had a presiding artist, it was probably another photographer famous for taking views from above. The Canadian Edward Burtynsky, honoured as ‘Master of Photography’, showed at a newly huge scale, and ventured into interactive presentation. His photographs of the logging industry in Lagos stun through pattern and content, but the point is that they depict uncontrolled deforestation at the heart of environmental problems.
Tom Bianchi: Polaroid, c 1975 at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles (image 5)
Writer-photographer Tom Bianchi portrayed the subculture of Fire Island when it was the go-to escape from the legal constraints on New York’s gay community. He has recently released new prints from some of the 800 Polaroids he’d kept in a box for 40 years until preparing the 2013 release of the book Tom Bianchi: Fire Island Pines Polaroids 1975–1983 – an evocative time capsule, now bound to be read through the prism of AIDS: Bianchi is himself an HIV Positive activist.
Tom Lovelace: Dazzle Site, Assemblage Three, 2017 at Flowers Gallery, London (image 6)
Tom Lovelace’s ‘dazzle site’ assemblages reference the camouflaging of warships while drawing a surprising equation between the ripples of water on a lake and the patterns on a steel drain cover. The conjunction arose from the proximity of water and industrial heritage which Lovelace found while on a residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and works particularly well in this corner-dwelling version which suggest the prow of a ship.
Berndnaut Smilde: Nimbus Thor, 2014 at Ronchini, London (image 7)
Ronchini had only three – albeit big – images on their stand, which was refreshing amidst the surfeit. Two were of Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s ‘nimbus’ series of indoor clouds of smoke. Note the wet floor of this attractively decrepit building in Ghent. Smilde – who orchestrates the event rather than pressing the camera button – sprays water before activating a smoke machine. That slows the smoke’s dispersion just long enough to allow a rather ominous form to be captured.
Tania Brassesco & Lazlo Passi Norberto: Under the Surface, 2014 at Raffaella De Chirico, Turin (image 8)
Tania and Lazlo are a collaborative Venetian couple based in New York who create imagined scenarios with particularly thorough intensity: nineteenth century painting meets Gregory Crewdson, perhaps. Here, from the series ‘Behind the Visible’, Tania herself poses on a set constructed to hold a real flood, complete with carp, which made for the Fair’s dreamiest invocation of inundation.
Michael Flomen: From the Web No. 6, 2017 at Duran | Mashaal, Montreal (image 9)
Michael Flomen – who has long moved in the same Canadian circles as Burtynsky – had a solo booth foregrounding a wide range of his photograms, impressively sized, taken by night and some lit only by fireflies! From the Web No. 6 put me in mind of Sam Francis’ paintings, but results from placing outdated film stock on a spider’s web during rainfall. Hence the silken traces, the surface rivulets, and the dramatic colours triggered by the water interacting with the unpredictable chemicals of the old film.
Helen Sear: Diviner #2 (Minerva), 2017 at Martin Asbæk Gallery, Copenhagen (image 10)
The Wales / France based Helen Sear showed a figure-sized print of a tree, partly-coloured to indicate the level to which flood water had previously risen. That exposes the skirt-like roots, which anthropomorphise the image as one from a set of water diviners, in this case named for Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom. Of whom the world has need just now…
Elger Esser: Nereide X, 2012 at Rose Gallery, Los Angeles (image 11)
Greek mythology this time, in which the Nereids are sea nymphs. This is from a set of twelve shots which the German photographer – and pupil of the Bechers – took at Asnelles in France. There the Channel meets the Atlantic. Never the same wave twice… and I like the apparent perversity of the Nereids hurling themselves against a full wall when there’s a tempting and compositionally effective gap nearby.
José Manuel Ballester: Ur – Lili 2, 2017 at Gallery Pilar Serra, Madrid (image 12)
Ur – Lili records an installation at the Guggenheim, Bilbao by both its photographer – Spanish artist José Manuel Ballester, who made the flowers – and Fog Sculpture by the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. There were 2,260 water lilies, each holding news texts between their leaves, and colour coded to include, for example, one black bloom for each of the 33 wars being suffered around the world at the time.
Doug and Mike Starn: Seaweed 2, 2011 at HackelBury Fine Art, London (image 13)
This enormous – seven feet wide – multi-part image distorts its blown-up seaweed with gelatin coating and abrasion, then allows the plants their influence in the form of the eddying eccentricity of the frame. What I liked most was how the Starns – who are twins working largely on public projects out of a six storey studio – suggest their own tangled relationship through the intertwining of the two strands, something they reference in many of their works.
Daido Moriyama: Artificial Underwater Flower, 1990 at Akio Nagasawa Gallery, Tokyo (image 14)
Another contemporary great with a heavy presence at the Fair was Daido Moriyama. Naturally I was drawn by now to the typically off kilter image, which arose from him asking a woman at a Tokyo bar to pose with a flower, only for her to drop it into a glass of water and allow him to catch its attempted retrieval. Several artists in the Fair tackled the topical concern of plastic in water, but maybe this was the earliest image which could be retro-linked to that sea pollution agenda.
– reviewed by Paul Carey-Kent