By Corrie Parsonson
The third annual Photo London fair opened earlier this week at Somerset House, a grand neoclassical building on the banks of the river Thames. The fair’s co-founders are British-born Michael Benson and Iranian-born Fariba Farshad.
The fair, a celebration of photographic ingenuity, brings together 89 of the world’s leading galleries this year, and also offers a ‘Discovery’ section for emerging talent. There’s plenty to see for anyone interested in the past, present and future of photography.
Co-director Fariba Farshad told Kayhan London that the now acclaimed event began in 2015 after three years of tough preparations and planning.
“We were amazed that one of the biggest and most important cultural cities in the world did not have a photography fair like Paris, which had been running for 20 years, or New York,” she noted. “London was left behind, so we made it our mission to sort this out.”
She said the fair featured “new artists working with new technologies, pushing the boundaries in new directions.”
The Tehran-based photographer Newsha Tavakolian made an appearance at the fair: in a conversation about her life and work with the curator Vali Mahlouji. Ms. Tavakolian, a well-known frontline photojournalist, documentarist and nominee member of Magnum Photos, told the audience at London’s National Portrait Gallery of her inner conflicts about conflict photojournalism.
“I like to balance the conflict pictures with what’s going on around [the violent action]. I don’t call myself a ‘conflict photographer.’ I rather show the effect of conflict on people and how decisions from the powerful impact on them,” she said.
Ms. Tavakolian also revealed that she had a new book in the pipeline about women guerrillas around the world. “It interests me greatly: the juxtaposition of women who bring life into the world, [and] are also prepared to take life.”
The book originated with a visit a year ago to a FARC camp “nine hours from anywhere” in Colombia last year. She will now visit 11 countries and take another two years to produce the book, which will also include lengthy interviews.
Another highlight of this year’s Photo London fair is the re-creation by Mat Collishaw, in virtual reality, of the world’s first-ever photography show: Henry Fox Talbot’s Birmingham Exhibition of 1839. Titled ‘Thresholds,’ it took Collishaw and a small team of digital 3-D experts a total of 18 months to make.
“If I’d known what I was getting into”, Collishaw said at a press conference, “I’d never have started”.
The virtual 1839 exhibition “has a haptic element to it,” said Collishaw. “Visitors can reach out and seemingly touch the images, recreated from photographs [that are] now too sensitive, because of the technical limitations [of the time], to withstand any light at all”.
The virtual-reality film is accompanied by the sound of crowd protests. “When Talbot’s exhibition opened in 1839, angry mobs were demonstrating against the impact of science and technology on their jobs,” Collishaw said. “It’s a specter we’re all too familiar with today.”
Other guests on the panel were the award-winning British photographer Taryn Simon and the visual artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien.
At Photo London, Simon is presenting ‘Image Atlas,’ a digital visual indexing project made in collaboration with programmer Aaron Schwartz, while Isaac Julien is presenting stills from his seminal 1989 film “Looking for Langston,” inspired by the life and times of the gay African-American poet Langston Hughes.
Tickets to Photo London 2017 can be bought at Somerset House or online at photolondon.seetickets.com. The fair runs until Sunday, May 21 and opens every day at 12:00 midday and closes at 7:30 pm (6:30 pm Sunday).
For more information about related events visit Photo London’s website at http://photolondon.org/public-programme/