I headed down to Somerset House on a brighter-than-expected day, where Photo London was being held for a second year. Bringing together eighty of the world's leading galleries and offering a series of talks, exhibitions and book signings, this is a great event to connect with what is going down in the photographic world.
I joined the queue for a talk I had booked between the photographer Alec Soth and curator of Media Space at the Science museum, Kate Bush.
It was a sell-out affair in a basement auditorium. I was sat quite far back, so couldn't see much of Alec and Kate, but there were four TV screens on stilts dotted around the room. These were used to show photos of Alec's work, spanning the past ten years; fragments of stories from his travels across central America. Kate tried to draw him into a history in line with some of the great American photographers, but he tried to emphasise how he hadn't consciously gone out to emulate a tradition, but was looking for stories from an often misrepresented portion of American society.
Alec's work pieces together landscapes, portraits and inividual items, sometimes photographed and sometimes real. He talked of how he often finds photography restrictive, and struggles with the lack of narrative in the single image. This is something I am working on myself.
Mostly as an aside to the conversation, the slides were being changed intermittently. When discussing Soth's work Broken Manual, about men who had attempted to escape the conformist lifestyle end lived as hermits or runaways, Kate suggested we discussed a particular image: A wide shot of a flat surface with something small and rubbery on top - to me it looked like a leg-of-lamb. Just peaking in the side was the end of a measuring rule. Alex squirmed as he said 'Kate. Well, this is what we call a pocket-pussy, and something a lone man in a forest may carry around with him'. She blushed and the audience giggled. A moment shared!
Alec mused that he runs a 'pretend company' called Little Brown Mushroom, under which he posts any social media. Every Friday he posts a poem...
Kate was asking him about his 'fame' and he offered us the idea of striving to be as authentic as possible in his work, always. Something that most artists will associate with, and something that must get harder once you have built a reputation on a certain project or style: how to create your own work when the eyes of the world are watching you.
It happened to be a Friday, so Alec read a little from the day's poem which relates to the idea of losing yourself to the darker side of fame:
'The Strife between the Poet and Ambition' by Thomas Merton, starts:
Money and fame break in the room
And find the poet all alone.
They lock the door, so he won't run, And turn the radio full-on
And beat the poor dope like a drum.
I only became aware of Alec's work around 18 months ago when I saw 'Charles, Vasa, Minnesota, 2002'. http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14
Something about that image made me want to find out more.
I was very excited then, when I discovered last Autumn that he would be showing at The Media Space in the Science Museum. The exhibition Gathered Leaves which brought together work from four of his collections created over the past decade.
At Photo London there was an opportunity to buy the boxed work from this exhibition, so I hot-footed it to the publishers section full of excitement. Hmm, it cost three times my budget, and I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I had to call my Mum to ask if she wanted to contribute in advance of my birthday. After explaining that no, I didn't need it, but it would be a good investment and a great reference she agreed, and I got to meet the man. I told him I had been to his talk, and he asked what I thought, suggesting that it was a bit short. I said it was good to know that we all struggle, and he joked that he was struggling now as he couldn't get the box to close.
There was more than Alec Soth, honest!
I made my way to the galleries area, where some great photographers are being represented by people in suits to sell their works.
My first encounter was a young Sloane-style couple wafting pass the artworks. The woman laughingly indicated a striking image of a young Rolling Stones to her suitor 'that would look amazing in your living room'. The man yawningly stating 'can we hurry up as I quickly get bored in these places'. To be fair, I have heard this mantra over and over, across the class divide. Seriously.
Without intention, the first gallery I saw represented Mr. Soth, and I got to see some works I hadn't seen before. There was some great work from the Ibasho gallery, Antwerp who had various oriental photographers under their belts including some evocative work of Cherry Blossom trees by Yoshinori Mizutari...nice to see how each artist interprets a subject with such varaition.
Then there were the stunning photographs from Nick Brandt's series 'Inherit the Dust'. In real life they were a good three metres wide. Check this out! http://nickbrandt.inheritthedust.com there was a transaction taking place.
I wouldn't want to hazard a guess at how much one of them would set you back, but to know that Photography is being seen as a serious investment to collectors is a good thing.
Other highlights were Don Mcullin - I am always glad to see his work as he is the photographer I admired and wrote about most when studying for my A levels and beyond.
Another large exhibition was that of Russian photographer Sergey Chilikov. I didn't find his work instantly impressive, but it works well in the context it was made: A response to a stark and oppressive life under the Brezhnev era of the USSR.
The curator, Olga Sviblova says "Sergey Chilikov's photography is a unique way of visualising Chekov's worldview, in which the absurd and the torment of the free spirit are found in the closed contexts of everyday banality. http://flashbak.com/photoprovocations-sergei-chillikov-draft-60200/