NEW WORK // Photo London
There couldn’t be more happening at Photo London. The newly-instituted 4-day exhibition, which features galleries from London, Paris and New York among others, boasts of being the largest photography event in the UK, and returned in May for its second showcase of the medium. At a time when the bounds of what photography is and can do are being pushed, and ever-more exciting work is produced, such an event should promise a thrill – yet among the elegant arcades and curved halls of Somerset House, the overwhelming feeling is less excitement, more confusion. With over 85 galleries and publishers – seemingly selected simply as those that can pay out – setting up their stands, the lack of cohesion leaves much to be desired. Of my own friends, four visited on separate occasions, and none of us had seen the work the others talked about. Photo London has the effect of a rabbit warren in which the audience is left spiraling, trying to remember their glimpse of gold dust in what seems at times like an inundation of work.
It’s a shame, for the talent is undeniably there, and it deserves to be highlighted. Chief among our favourites was new photographer Marianna Rothen, a New-York based artist represented by Steven Kasher Gallery who creates atmospheric, enticingly unsettling images. Rothen works in polaroid, producing photographs that act like a window into an unnamed film-set, an overwhelmingly female world of dystopian road trips and seductive yet haunting domesticity. An undeniable sense of tragedy pervades, and despite the beauty of the scenes one thinks of Hitchcock or Lynch, and waits for the illicit liaison or the threatening entry that seems always about to come. Having been featured in multiple exhibitions, from Cologne to New York to Istanbul, and with her first monograph recently published, the young photographer is without doubt one to watch.
Images courtesy Marianna Rothen and Steven Kasher Gallery
At Purdy Hicks meanwhile, Finnish artist Sandra Kantanen hypnotises with a semi-real vision of nature, creating photographs of vivid landscapes which seemingly melt into painted strokes. A seasoned exhibitor and graduate of the Helsinki school, Kantanen describes her work as “a search for a landscape that doesn’t really exist”, disrupting the idea of capturing truth through a photograph – increasingly untenable in the digital age – by creating her own “idealised picture” – we see what she wants us to see. The level of detail in these prints is mesmerising, and recalls the painstaking Chinese landscape tradition, yet Kantanen’s technique is equally suggestive of painters such as Twombly, Innes, or Alex Katz – the pure strokes of colour creating a dream-like world where nothing is fixed. Currently working on a series of landscapes made with smoke bombs, Kantanen is a repeated feature at Purdy Hicks in London, while her books provide a microcosm worth stepping into.
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Words – Elena Ellen