London is back in the frame with its first international photography fair in eight years

Photo London at Somerset House will nurture a new generation of collectors

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The Independent Culture

An international photography fair is returning to London eight years after it was erased from the cultural diary as a total flop.

This weekend’s Photo London, at Somerset House, aims to nurture a new generation of photography collectors. It will feature more than 70 exhibitors, including the world’s top photography galleries and publishers, showcase a wide range of vintage and contemporary photographs, as well as commissioning an exhibition from the V&A.

So why has it taken so long for London to fill the gap in the market? Paris Photo, in November, Europe’s biggest fair devoted to 19th-century, modern and contemporary photographs and now in its 19th year, holds a sister fair, which was successfully launched three years ago, in Los Angeles in early May. And the 35th annual Association of International Photography Art Dealers Photography Show in New York in April, which featured contemporary, modern, and 19th-century photographs from 89 exhibitors, had a whopping 12,000 more visitors this year.

But in London, things are less geared up for the photography lover. At the Frieze Art Fair, in October, photography is scattered throughout the venue but it is hard work finding it. The London Photograph Fair, also held this weekend at Two Temple Place, Embankment, is a boutique event but it only showcases fine vintage photographs. With no international photography fair, London has been lagging behind other cities.

“It is well overdue,” says Ghislain Pascal, co-owner of The Little Black Gallery, in London's Chelsea, which is are exhibiting at the fair. “Let’s hope it lives up to its expectations.”

Photo London was launched in 2005 at the Royal Academy of Arts by Daniel Newburg, publisher of international photography magazine Pluk. By 2007 it had been purchased by Reed Expositions who intended to produce a British equivalent to its Paris Photo flagship event. But after its first year under Reed, it was killed off. Reasons for its demise include moving it from Mayfair to Old Billingsgate and restricting it to contemporary photography, as well as the worldwide financial crisis at the time.

It has only now been revived by Candlestar, who are based at Somerset House, led by Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, who run the Prix Pictet photography award. They were looking at organising a fair, and decided 18 months ago to relaunch Photo London.

“What the dealers have told me about the old Photo London is that nobody was there, it was badly managed and in the wrong place. I have been trying to sway them to come back to the new fair,” says Benson. “It has taken this long for London to have a fair because it failed before. Everybody is a bit risk-averse. It is a big decision and very costly.

“But London is ready. There is a huge appetite for photography. The majority of the collectors are in London anyway so it makes sense.”

Included is an exhibition of photographs titled Beneath the Surface, from the V&A’s archives, and the late Iranian documentary photographer Kaveh Golestan’s Prostitute series.

And the young Japanese photographer Sohei Nishino’s Diorama Map of London will adorn Somerset House’s Stamp staircase.


Photo London, Somerset House, London WC2 (www.somerset, until 24 May