Michael Benson: “Despite uncertainties, Photo London is stronger than at its outset”

As the third edition of Photo London prepares to open, Art Media Agency has interviewed its cofounder and co-director to discuss what’s special about this young fair… and the Brexit’s impact on the event’s future. An encounter. Launched in May 2015, the Photo London fair will be opening for the third consecutive year in the neoclassical salons of Somerset House, on the banks of the Thames, from 18 to 21 May. The event was launched by the company Candlestar, specialised in organising cultural events and projects and founded in 2003 by Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad. Candlestar is namely the organiser of the Prix Pictet for photography (seventh edition in 2017) and the Art Dubai fair. A film producer and writer, Michael formerly directed the gallery of the London Institute (today the University of the Arts London), for which he organised numerous exhibitions. Between 2011 and 2014, he also curated the exhibition of the Sony World Awards. Fariba Farshad, co-director of the fair, is a specialist in contemporary Iranian art and an exhibition curator.   Can you present us the main features of this 2017 edition of Photo London? We have 89 participating galleries this year, from 17 countries. This represents a slight increase compared to last year when there were 83 of them. We’re also welcoming ten publishing houses, which makes a total of 99 exhibitors. There were around 200 galleries that applied by sending in online applications. The selection committee’s criteria are based on three aspects. The main criterion is to offer something new. We expect galleries to either present new artists, or else the latest work from recognised or well-established artists, or else historic images that are gems. This year, the selection committee, which includes half a dozen photo and contemporary-art experts, was overseen by Philippe...

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Data: Robert Mapplethorpe, a stabilising market

The market of this “sculptor-painter”, whose auction prices are still affordable, is currently stabilising, even if great disparities exist. A market that still tends to be dominated by the United States… Robert Mapplethorpe was born on 4 November 1946 in New York State, into an English-Irish Catholic family. He was the third of six children. He spent his childhood in Floral Park, Queens (New York) where he attended Our Lady of the Snows. “I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things” (Deborah A. Levinson, Robert Mapplethorpe’s Extraordinary Vision). In 1963, Robert Mapplethorpe enrolled in Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. First — and primarily to please his father — he studied graphic arts. Bad choice. He dropped out two years later and it was then that he turned his attention the visual arts — drawing, painting, sculpture. He began making surrealist collages, in tandem with his discovery of cannabis and LSD. He met Patti Smith, and they became friends — following a short tryst. At this time, Robert Mapplethorpe was largely marked by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell: he continued to practise collage, but also made boxes, installations and altar pieces, influenced by his Catholic childhood but also by black magic. At the end of the 1960s, Robert Mapplethorpe became fascinated by the New York avant-garde. He namely frequented the clubs near Union Square, such as Max’s Kansas City or CBGB, where Factory members tended to congregate: Andy Warhol himself, but also Gerard Malanga and Candy Darling. According to Patti Smith, it was only at the start of the 1970s that Robert Mapplethorpe started photography. His interest in the medium is inseparable from his visits to the Metropolitan Museum (New York), when John...

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Galerie Particulière represents Lise Sarfati

The Galerie Particulière, a photography gallery in the Marais district in Paris, now represents Lise Sarfati. Born in 1958 in Oran, Algeria, this self-taught artist, twice winner of the Prix Niépce and a member of Magnum Photos, started her career as official photographer for the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Paris. Fascinated with Russia from an early age, Lise Sarfati completed a master’s in Russian studies, and in 1989, moved to this country which would wield a major influence on her work. The young men she met there became the basis of her work as a documentary photographer while her artistic search focuses on the body’s relationship to space and emptiness. Today, the artist lives in the United States which she prefers to France whose architecture she perceives as overwhelming its people.  She is represented in New York by Yossi Milo, and in Santa Monica by Rose Gallery. Lise Sarfati’s work can be seen in exhibitions throughout the world and is represented in many collections. Several monographs have been published on...

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Data: Brassaï, the eye of Paris

At a time when the Centre Pompidou is showing the photographer’s well-known Graffiti, we retrace the career of Brassaï and his popularity on the art market, peaking in 2006. Paris by night. Who, better than Brassaï, has managed to capture the magic of the French capital after dark? Gyula Halász was born on 9 September 1899 in Brașov (Austria-Hungary), of a Hungarian father and an Armenian mother. Young Gyula moved to Paris at a tender age with his parents – in 1903 when his father was hired to teach literature at the Sorbonne. Later, Gyula Halász headed to Budapest where he studied at the School of Fine Arts, then signed up with the Austrian-Hungarian cavalry during World War I. He then set down his suitcases in Berlin, in 1921, to continue his art studies  – at the Academy of Fine Arts of Berlin-Charlottenburg – while earning a crust as a journalist. Here he met Kandinsky, then coined his pseudonym in 1923, inspired by his birthplace. Indeed, Brassaï means “from Brașov”. In 1924, he returned to Paris and settled in the district of Montparnasse, still largely frequented by artists and poets. Legend has it that he learned French by reading Proust and memorising ten words per day. Here, he met Henry Miller – who later called him “the eye of Paris” –, Léon-Paul Fargue, the famous Kiki of Montparnasse and Jacques Prévert. In 1946, the latter would illustrate his Paroles d’une photographie in the Graffiti series. At the same time, Brassaï continued his career as a journalist by writing for Hungarian and German newspapers. It was only in 1930 that he started photography, introduced to it by André Kertész, initially to document his articles. Very quickly, Brassaï developed a passion for the art that was gaining in strength at the...

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Clément Chéroux, the third eye

A specialist in the art of looking, Clément Chéroux is a curator at the Centre Pompidou, where he has been head of the photography department since 2013. His keen eye makes him a highly observant eyewitness of the images that now haunt our world. An eye-to-eye interview. “Ten years of photography acquisitions at the Centre Pompidou”… This is the gist of the exhibition organised by Clément Chéroux and Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, to celebrate the 20th edition of Paris Photo: a selection of around one hundred works from the museum’s collections – one of the largest in Europe, comprising around 40,000 prints to date. Let’s note that this event is not just another exhibition on the genealogy of forms or the subversion of images; it is a major overview, almost a manifesto, illustrating the highlights over a century on which the photographic medium left its mark. Its title? “The Pencil of Culture”, in allusion to the book by William Henry Fox Talbot published in 1844, “The Pencil of Nature”. Another time, another paradigm… For Clément Chéroux, the image is well and truly a “marker of culture” today. Explanations follow. The exhibition borrows its title from the very first book on the history of photography, The Pencil of Nature by Talbot. What is the idea behind this title? When photography was invented and revealed to the public in 1839, its main aim could be summed up as reproducing reality faithfully and quickly. Hence Talbot’s title, seeing photography as “the pencil of nature”, a nature that prints itself on the sensitive plate without the artist adding any gestures to it. The quality of the image, the way Talbot saw it, came primarily from its truthful character. Today, over 170 years later, photography’s main quality can no longer be reduced to its capacity to...

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