Photo London – the U.K. capital’s first-ever international photography fair – has reason to cheer. It just completed its second edition, with 85 cutting-edge global galleries overtaking Somerset House in the second half of May. They displayed works by 480 top world artists originating from such far-flung locations as Buenos Aires, Beirut, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, and Tehran.
Iranians featured prominently at this year’s fair. Hosting the event was Photo London’s co-founder, Iranian-born Fariba Farshad. Traveling over from Tehran was the AG Gallery, the only Iranian dealership at the fair, which exhibited stark war-related works by the late Bahman Jalali and by Arash Hanaei. Finally, the Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian exhibited seven of her works at the ILEX Gallery (from Italy), all seven of which were sold, according to the gallery’s director.
Ms. Farshad and her British husband Michael Benson first got the idea for Photo London a few years ago, after co-founding Candlestar, a company specializing in international cultural projects. Candlestar organized the Gulf Art Fair in Dubai (the precursor to Art Dubai), the Prix Pictet photography prize, and as many as 70 exhibitions in more than 40 cities. “The organization of these exhibitions encouraged us to pursue the idea of Photo London,” Ms. Farshad explained.
“Photo London is the first large-scale gathering of leading photo galleries in London: It can be viewed as London’s first international photography fair,” she said. “In addition to honoring the life and work of world-famous photographers – such as this year’s tribute to the British photojournalist Donald McCullin – we seek to introduce, through our Discovery section, a younger generation of artists who are less present in art fairs. We also host debates and open discussions.”
Born in Tehran and based in London since 1986, Ms. Farshad initially dedicated her time and energy to promoting Iranian contemporary art. In 2009, she showed three generations of Iranian female artists in an exhibition titled “The Masques of Shahrazad.” Five years later, she showcased life in Iran through the lens of eight Iranian photographers in “The Burnt Generation,” an exhibition that later traveled to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography.
Ms. Farhad said the Tehran-based AG Gallery’s booth at Photo London was very well received by visitors, even though the works were challenging to look at, portraying as they did the casualties of the Iran-Iraq work (in photographs by the late Bahman Jalali) and a set of burned dolls symbolizing violence and conflict (in images by Arash Hanaei).
She said she hoped that a greater number of Iranian galleries would participate in the fair next year. “This will only be possible with the news media’s help, as many of the Iranian photo galleries are not aware of this fair,” she noted.
The AG Gallery’s director (who wished to remain unnamed) said: “Sales were not our primary goal at this fair. Our aim was to introduce artists with serious views on war and Iranian society. We wanted to remind visitors of a war that was imposed on our people by the Western powers, that was part of our lives for years, and that transformed Iran’s destiny as a country.”
Referring to Mr. Hanaei’s doll series, titled “The Benefits of Vegetarianism,” the AG Gallery director said: “The photos in that collection were taken during the American bombing of Baghdad. They are a protest against war in the Middle East and the dangers facing Iran. The six photos were influenced by the work of Bahman Jalali, and the two-part display is a dialogue between two different ways of looking at war and photography.”