In the largest ever takeover of Somerset House, the first annual Photo London opens this week, with commissioned shows and galleries and publishers from around the world exhibiting iconic images from the masters and fresh new work by emerging artists.
The aim was to steer away from traditional notions of ‘the art fair' – moving away from the standard grid-like formation with a more laissez-faire vibe – and the organisers have packed photography into every nook and cranny of the vast Somerset House, using rooms that have never open to the public before and showing work in corridors, across four levels of the building and the courtyard.
From Gardening at Night, by Cig Harvey (Robert Klein Gallery)
Men in the Cities (1979), by Robert Longo
"When making their selection, our curatorial committee asked three things of the exhibitors," explains Michael Benson, co-director of Photo London. "First and foremost, is the work you are seeing of the highest quality? Second, does the proposal feature work that has rarely is ever been seen before? And thirdly, is there work included by young and emerging photographers?"
And indeed there's some intriguing work in the Discovery section, created in response to the curator's call for work from emerging artists, Benson explained, and found in the lower part of the mezzanine level, which, he says, they hope to grow in the future.
There are some hidden gems to be found depending on taste, from experimental work and installations, to reworked vintage photography, but the event would certainly benefit from more of this, both in these galleries sections and potentially additional commissioned shows as well.
Tunnel (1999) by Naoya Hatakeyama
Nach Innen / In Deeper (1999) by Rut Blees
Three special exhibitions commissioned for Photo London, including Beneath the Surface (images above), which runs until 24 August in Embankment Galleries East, presenting a selection of rarely seen before photographs revealing the breath of the V&A's collection (of over half a million). The riverfront location of the building was used as a starting point for the show, with 200 images, some dating back to 1852, and contemporary and experimental work, many curated together around themes the theme of water.
Also in Embankment Galleries East, Sebastião Salgado's Genesis and Platinum (shown above) is being exhibited, with previously unseen mages from the breathtaking series of large-format prints. The Brazilian photographer captured the series during 32 journeys to distant corners of the globe over eight years, in a quest to find the untouched wonders of the world.
Prostitute (shown above), by Iranian documentary photographer Kaveh Golestan, is an intense series capturing Teran's former red light district, taken between 1975-77, on show in Embankment Galleries West until 24 May. The portraits were the final photographic record taken of the walled ghetto area where 1,500 women lived and worked, before it was set alight and demolished by official decree after the revolution in 1979.
i series (2014), by Eamonn Doyle (Michael Hoppen Gallery)
Running alongside the exhibtions is a programme of talks with an extensive list of the industry's leading photographers, curators and critics, including Nadav Kandar, Erik Kessels, Don McCullin, Sebastião Salgado, Mitch Epstein, Rankin, Stephen Shore and many more. Check out the full list of talks here.
Cooling Tower, Power Station, Scheibler Textil Factory, Poland, by Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre (Polka Galarie)
There are also events at Somerset House celebrating music photography, matching imagery to DJ sets, in collaborations with YoYo, Just Jam and Rinse FM with visuals from Beth Lesser and Bill Bernstein, every evening from 7pm-late in the Deadhouse space beneath the courtyard.
Vogue (1942), by Horst P Horst (Bernheimer)
"Our aim was always to establish this week at the end of May as London's 'Photography Week'," says Benson, who is hopeful that in future it will rival the likes of Paris Photo. "We thought this might talk a while. Not a chance."
Benson says that photography shows and events are springing up across the city in response to Photo London – at galleries including Tate with the Offprint book fair timed to coincide with the week; photography sales at major auction houses; commercial galleries with photo shows; plus pop-up exhibitions smaller spaces.
Much of this is in its infancy but it is certainly encouraging that Photo London has begun to catalyse a city-wide celebration of photography – and, hopefully, ‘London Photo Week' will grow in years to come.
There's so much to see but here are a few more of our favourites ...
Variant Crowd 2, St. Petersburg (1993) by Alexy Titarenko (Nailya Alexander Gallery)
Anonymous (vintage slides) (Galerie Lumiere des roses)
Red Shoes, from Still Here, by Lydia Goldblatt (Wapping Project Bankside)
The Cult of the Self 3, by Miles Aldridge (Kasher Potamkin)
Brooklyn Gang (1959), by Bruce Davidson (Howard Greenburg Gallery)
Kate Moss Study #4 (2011) by Steven Klein; Philip Seymour Hoffman (2003), by Martin Schoeller (Camera Work)
Stars 8, by Ellie Davies (Crane Kalman Brighton)
Tokyo Parrots, by Yoshinori Mizutani (Amana (amanasalto / IMA))
Cream (2015), and Mop (2014) by Kendrik Kerstens (Danziger)
Dalston Anatomy (2013), by Lorenzo Vitturi (Flowers Gallery)
Iceberg (2012) by Noemie Goudal (Edel Assanti)
Salt Man (2013), by Polixeni Papapetrou (Galerie Pavlova)
Self portrait (2009), by Jun Ahn (Christophe Guye)
Rise Up You Are Free (2014), by Dominic Hawgood (RCA)
Photo London runs 21 - 24 May. Day tickets £20, conc. £17, children £14, family £52. For the full programme and more info visit photolondon.org