The new photo-london show with 45 photography exhibitors was located in the very convenient, but space-constrained Royal Academy. Between and close to all of the auction houses (now that Christie's holds its Spring auctions at its King Street location), the show drew a huge crowd the first night. Of course, the rumor (true, as it turned out) of Sir Elton John's attendance may have prompted the "beautiful people" of London and the flash-popping paparazzi to materialize at the show for the opening night festivities, only to quickly disappear over the next four days that the show was open.
The small exhibit space had sold out early, largely to booth reservations from London and European dealers, although American dealers Bonni Benrubi Gallery, Paul Kasmin Gallery and Hamburg Kennedy Photographs, and Canadian dealer Stephen Bulger Gallery also exhibited here.
The results of all of this hoopla? Like a lot of photography shows lately, it was a mixed bag with most dealers at least doing well enough to cover costs. That was actually a pretty good result for a first-time event, as U.K. dealer Ken Jacobson noted, "It was the first year for photo-london and there were not as many American visitors as usual for the May sales, so we had relatively low expectations. Considering all this, the fair was surprisingly successful for us and we were very pleased."
Sven Becker of Simon Finch Rare Books Ltd., who was also an enthusiastic supporter of the show, represented most of the dealers when he described the show as, "not a financial blockbuster, but we covered our costs and met a good number of new contacts."
Becker did note, "We were very pleased that someone took the initiative to organize this fair. I had felt for many years that London needed to be put on the photo world's map of major events."
Jacobson also reported that despite the London fair's "inevitable teething problems…the atmosphere was good and there was an incredible buzz during the opening even if the exhibition rooms were far too hot. The fair certainly had a notably more European than American atmosphere throughout." Jacobson presented a small exhibition of 19th-century photographs of India, including works by W.W. Hooper, Dr. John Murray, Frederick Fiebig, John Burke, Samuel Bourne, Colin Murray and Lala Deen Dayal. Jacobson noted, "We sold both from this group as well as a range of other material."
Although the building space configuration was sometimes a bit odd (at first I thought the show was incredibly small because I only saw the first floor's small number of exhibitors), a lot of the galleries made the most of it. Noted 19th-century dealer Robert Hershkowitz was actually exhibiting for the first time ever. He had a wonderful and elegant selection of masterworks beautifully framed on his walls and interesting work in the bins--overall, for me one of the most enjoyable exhibits at the fair. I genuinely coveted a great many images in this room, and Hershkowitz sold well at the fair.
Likewise Daniel Blau, whose space was just next-door, had several great images up on his wall. He sold a number of 19th-century masterworks, including the magical riverside scene by Henri Victor Regnault "Bords de la Seine, Cours et Logment du Charpentier".
Another largely 19th-century dealer (although he also showed Danish contemporary photography) was my temporary apartment mate for a few days Andrew Daneman of Northern Light, whose color themed and well thought-out booth exhibit lent class to the show, although also left some sawdust in my living room.
Johannes Faber also reported that his Austrian gallery "did very well at the fair. We sold a vintage print of a nude study by Anton Josef Trcka and some others by Brandt, Sudek, Drtikol and Saudek. I think the photo-london fair will be an important fair for photography in the future. The location is perfect, as well as the time; and London is one of the leading cities for vintage and contemporary photography."
Canadian Stephen Bulger told me, "I liked the mix of work at the show and the visitors I met, as well as the intimate atmosphere of the fair itself. I am looking forward to next year." Bulger reported that he sold prints by Shelby Lee Adams, Larry Towell, Phil Bergerson, Volker Seding and Larry Clark at the fair, and had some decent sales afterwards, including his Kertesz Guggenheim Portfolio and other prints by Larry Towell. He notes that he still has a Guggenheim Fellowship Project by Dave Heath entitled "The Human Condition". This maquette was used as camera-ready artwork for a layout that was published in Contemporary Photographer, Winter 1964, Volume V, Number 1. It was photographed, printed and assembled in 1963. The price is $55,000 for the set.
Some of the most creative and interesting of the contemporary shown here was that of the Blue Gallery. I was particularly taken with the work by Valentin Valhonrat, whose Moonlight Series (edition of five; priced at 2,800 pounds sterling) of Egyptian scenes, such as "Karnak, Abu Simbel" and "Pyramide de Kufhu", was extraordinary and mysterious. I also like Emily Allchurch's huge computer-generated images that resembled medieval paintings.
Focus Gallery also had Marcus Doyle's color work on display here. It was, sadly enough, the last exhibit show for Focus, which recently closed its doors. Vintage Works, Ltd. is now exclusive representative for Doyle's stunning color images, which are made around twilight or at night.
Another contemporary dealer Ben Brown featured several important images at the fair, including works by Andreas Gursky and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The Gursky has sold (not at the fair, but later), but the Becher is still available. Brown told me, "I did not sell anything at the fair. However, as a direct result of the fair, I sold various items in the gallery to people who had been at the fair and came into the gallery."
Brown reported that he "thought the contemporary photography (at the fair) was well below par, but the vintage material looked great to a non professional."
Show organizer Daniel Newburg told me, "Photo-london exceeded our expectations and certainly demonstrated that London was ready for a world class photography event on the level of Paris Photo. While our model differs slightly from Paris Photo, we feel that we were able to position Photo-London just where it needs to be to be successful. That means the right balance of the best contemporary, modern and 19th-century work."
Newburg claimed, "We had just under 12,500 visitors, which we think is pretty good for a first time event." It was a claim that seemed more than a little inflated, but then this seems to be a common practice among European show organizers. I put the numbers at more like about half that number, but still a very substantial audience for such a relatively small number of booths. Organizers at these events seem to count bodies (multiple times, of course) coming into the show instead of actual tickets sold or turned in.
Newburg also noted the plus and minuses of the opening reception night: "The feedback from our participants suggested that the opening bash, which was a huge social event with 'le tout londres' turning up, was too crowded and not necessarily the right kind of people. But it put the show on the map with TV news coverage, Breakfast TV, and a two page spread in Hello Magazine--all things we felt were critical to building the profile of the event and to establish photo-london on the cultural and social calendar."
Newburg continued, "One of the goals behind photo-london is to bring new people into this market, which is why we needed to reach out beyond existing collectors and make the opening a great party."
And Newburg also looked ahead to next year, saying "there are a number of improvements we are going to make mainly behind the scenes; but building on the success of 2004, we anticipate an even more oversubscribed event for 2005. He reported that the dates have now been set for the next photo-london for May 19-22, 2005 at the same venue.