This weekend I visited the Photo London 2018 fair at Somerset house and spent the best part of 4 hours wandering through room after room of every imaginable genre of photography.
I saw iconic images from superstars like Ansel Adams, Terry O’Neill and Daido Moriyama. Individual photographs like Gustave Le Gray’s “Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean” (a snip at £55,000!) and Titarenko’s St. Petersburg metro station from City Of Shadows. There were dozens of stunning images – David Yarrow’s “The Usual Suspects”! – many by photographers I have never previously heard of.
There were also many images that held absolutely no attraction for me whatsoever, and a few which almost repelled. With some it was the subject matter or style, with others it was techniques so far on the boundaries of ‘photography’ they didn’t even appear to be photographs.
I could go on for page after page listing what I loved, liked, disliked and hated, but that would be a bit pointless because, if there’s one thing this experience taught me, it’s that there are as many genres and approaches and techniques out there as there are people who appreciate them. I could see where my own still very much under-construction style might fit in with some of what was on show and know there would be people interested in looking at them That’s my first take away from Photo London 2018 – direct experience of seeing the vast range of photography that’s seen as good enough, interesting enough, to go up on gallery walls.
My second take away is about the technical aspects of the photography on show. Aside from studio portraits, I’d say that the majority of images on show exhibited what I would have described prior to this OCA course as technical failures. Blurry, wonky, under/over exposed. Nonsense! The world is full of technically perfect, pin sharp, hi-res beautiful photographs that say nothing other than “look at me”. There will always be a minimum technical standard I’ll want to work to, but beyond that minimum it’s about asking about what the image is saying, inspiring, suggesting. Nobuyoshi Araki got it spot on when he pointed out that photographers can be slaves to their cameras:
“The photographer had been a slave of the camera for a long time. Good camera, good lens, Leica, etc. These were the masters of a photographer. But in a way, Daido Moriyama is a photographer who started to make the camera his own slave. Photography is not about the camera.
Of course we need the camera. If you want to write a romantic love letter, we need some tool to write it with. But anything– a pencil or a ball pen is fine. It is like this in photography, and he is a pioneer for that.” (Araki 2001)