Photo London 2021: “It has a life of its own”

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, Ones to Watch, delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

Following a year of uncertainty, Photo London once again takes over Somerset House, with Shirin Neshat receiving this year’s Master of Photography award

​​Since 2015, Photo London has taken over London’s Somerset House every spring. The advent of Covid-19, however, saw the fair forced to reschedule three times last year, with the second attempt occupying a new space in Gray’s Inn Gardens. Now, as the capital reopens, the sixth full edition finally returns to its original home from 08 to 12 September, with exhibitors from 17 countries worldwide – bringing together the work of established and emerging photographers under one roof.

In the wake of the pandemic, Photo London embraced the kind of digital programming seen throughout the cultural sphere over the past year and a half. Photo London Digital launched in October 2020, featuring 109 exhibitors from 21 countries. It returns this year, running from 08 to 28 September, with Photo London’s talks programming also remaining online. “The fair feels far bigger now – we are running it, but it doesn’t just belong to us,” says Michael Benson, co-founder of Photo London alongside Fariba Farshad. “It has a life of its own.”

© Rolph Gobits.

Last year, the Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat received Master of Photography, an award celebrating a living artist who has made an exceptional contribution to photography with a solo exhibition. She will be given the 2021 iteration of the award following the disruption to last year’s event and presents her latest series, Land of Dreams, for the first time in the UK at Somerset House. The autobiographical project, which marks a digression from her earlier works by focusing on her host country, the US, comprises 111 portraits alongside a two-channel film installation. Created in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, the work explores the rise of division and discrimination in the US and its relationship to Iran, from which Neshat remains in exile. 

From the series Land of Dreams, © Shirin Neshat.
From the series Land of Dreams, © Shirin Neshat.

Elsewhere, Photo London’s international roster of exhibitors hosts an eclectic mix of individual displays alongside regular features, such as the Discovery section, designed to highlight emerging galleries and photographers. New to the fair is an exhibition showcasing the work of BA photography graduates from art colleges across London. We wanted to “reflect the community, and especially after the last two years, highlight the range of photographers,” Farshad says.

© Robert Capa.

Since its inception, an array of satellite events and exhibitions – some conceived in collaboration with Photo London, others timed to coincide with it – have accompanied the fair. These stretch across the capital, and like Photo London, many will also return to their physical locations this year, notably Peckham 24. Indeed, after a year of uncertainty and cancellations, this summer, photography will take over the capital for a long weekend once again. 

© Graham Carlow.

Photo London runs from 08 to 12 September 2021 and Photo London Digital from 08 to 28 September 2021. Photo London’s full programme can be found here.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.