It’s six years since the inaugural edition of Unseen Amsterdam arrived with the mission to shake up the art fair model, focusing on emerging photographers and collectors, and instilling a welcome dose of fun to proceedings. And despite its beginnings during difficult times for arts funding, the ‘fair with a festival flair’ has largely succeeded, developing into something more ambitious than a glorified trade show, with its own public programme and a city-wide celebration of the medium in one of the world’s great photography capitals.
The emphasis remains on championing new talent, and with this in mind, the latest addition to Unseen is Futures, a cross-European photography platform bringing together 10 cultural institutions from around the continent, each with their own talent programmes.
Magnum Photos just completed its annual AGM and has announced five new photographers are to join as Nominees – Rafal Milach (Poland), Sim Chi Yin (Singapore), Lua Ribeira (Spain), Gregory Halpern (USA), and Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South Africa).
Under Magnum’s system, photographers first join as Nominees, before graduating to become Associates a couple of years later. After a spell as Associates, they then become full Members – a status which confers life-time membership of the world-famous agency. Magnum has also announced that previous Nominees Sohrab Hura (India) and Lorenzo Meloni (Italy) have become Associates.
Between 1960 and 1997, the idyllic Italian island of Sardinia witnessed a series of kidnappings at the hands of the anonima sequestri sarda – a group of vigilantes meting out justice according to a traditional, local code of honour known as the codice barbaricino. Over 37 years, 162 people were kidnapped for ransom, with some of them killed. The kidnapping of seven-year-old Farouk Kassam in 1992 is particularly vivid for Sardinian-born-and-raised Valeria Cherchi, who was the same age at the time. The case instilled in her a profound fear. “I clearly remember the news, during his fifth month of imprisonment, that the upper part of his ear was found by a priest on a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia,” she recalls.
Roland Barthes’ tear-jerking account of his confrontation with his mother’s photograph captures the emotions that a picture of a loved one can evoke, and the significance of a family photograph. From early formal portraits of upper-class families shot in studios to contemporary snaps, images have welded families together under the premise of memory. But with private pictures now becoming more public, family photographs are evolving in the way we document our histories. Rie Yamada’s family photographs take it a step further: instead of documenting her nearest and dearest, in her series Familie werden (which translates as Become a family), the photographer plays every relative herself, highlighting gender stereotypes and social archetypes with a good dose of hilarity and absurdity.
Phoebe Kiely was 14 years old when she first picked up a camera. It was terrible, though: a four megapixel digital device from Aldi. But despite the poor quality, Kiely became obsessed with taking pictures. One of the earliest photographs she remembers was of her best friend, Amanda, captured in the garden of Kiely’s family home in Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire. “It’s a picture of her on a small trampoline,” she says. “I’m above her and she’s curled up, looking up at me.” The Aldi camera was replaced with a film camera when Kiely hit her late teens and the “buzz” of shooting, developing and seeing the final results of her pictures became stronger. It was what helped her get through three years of working in retail after finishing her A-levels in 2009. “I remember running into town during my 15-minute morning break to drop my film off,” she says. “I would walk back during my lunch hour to pick up the pictures. It was the most exciting part of the day.” Kiely graduated in 2015 with …
Famously described by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay Notes on ‘Camp’ as “a sensibility (as distinct from an idea)”, the appreciation of camp was born out of artifice and opulence, a vulgar fascination with theatrical exaggeration. And while it has long been tied up with LGBTQI culture, it has become a compelling way to convey messages without limits. “To me, camp is a very powerful thing,” says Phillip Prokopiou. “It’s a form of satire – a way to exaggerate and ridicule things that are very serious.” Prokopiou, a South Africa-born, London-based photographer behind an eponymous studio, which he co-founded with his partner-in-life-and-art Panagiotis Poimenidis, has long been fascinated with the power of kitsch to communicate our deepest hopes, fears and fantasies – whether they manifest in the form of a moustachioed Virgin Mary (stage name: Virgin Xtravaganzah) sitting chastely in the glow of ‘Gawd’’s glory, or an otherworldly extraterrestrial gazing into the distance.
Travelling to Kiev in the wake of protest, revolution and civil war, Belgian photographer David Denil set about documenting the aftermath of conflict in the minds of ordinary people still coming to terms with the country’s sharp divisions. The resulting series, Let Us Not Fall Asleep While Walking, departs from journalistic record, instead attempting to depict “the psychological state of this Ukraine looking at its future while haunted by its past and memory,” he says. “The images are metaphorical representations from the everyday life encountered where time seems frozen but dreams of hope still linger.”
BJP has joined forces with 10 cultural institutions across Europe to promote emerging photography talent under the umbrella of a new photography network, named Futures. Initiated by Unseen Amsterdam and the fair’s owner, Vandejong Creative Agency, the platform launched in spring and continues with a series of shows, events and residencies across the continent, culminating in a large-scale exhibition at Unseen in September. The partners include museums and galleries in Hungary, Belgium and Italy, alongside photofestivals in France, Germany, Poland, Ireland and Romania. Each will present shows and events of their own talent programmes in their own countries, and then elements of these events will come together for the collaborative exhibition in Amsterdam, showcasing 10 emerging photographers from across the continent – a pick from each country. “We realised that we could do more to create opportunities for artists, and that is where we came up with Futures,” explains Menno Liauw, strategy director at Vandejong, which is coordinating activities, having created the platform in the mould of Unseen, the first art fair of its kind, …
If the inaugural Photo London seemed a little light on contemporary work, there is plenty in the fourth edition to show that the organisers were determined to do something about it. It is evident in the public programme, and it is there to see on the shop-floor too, with the Discovery section devoted to emerging galleries now given over to 25 dealers. Tristan Lund, formerly of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, now an art consultant and dealer in his own right, returns as curator, charged with injecting some cutting-edge elements into the fair, but remaining mindful of his responsibilities to the young galleries he is enticing in.
Alighting at Peckham Rye train station in south London, a short walk across a busy market street takes you to the Bussey Building complex, a former cricket-bat factory that is now home to an assortment of bars, music venues, yoga studios and art spaces, including the Copeland Gallery. This bright exhibition space is once again the main site of Peckham 24 festival of contemporary photography, celebrating its third edition this year and running over the weekend of 18 to 20 May to coincide with Photo London – more than the 24 hours with which it launched and gave it its name. “Last year we were literally pushing people out of the door at midnight,” laugh the co-founders, Vivienne Gamble, whose Seen Fifteen gallery is in a nearby space, and artist Jo Dennis.