What we saw at Photo London 2022

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As the UK’s largest photography festival kicks off at Somerset House, Billy Barraclough captures a morning at the fair, and we round-up some of highlights

Frank Horvat (1928-2021) believed that photography was a miracle. According to his daughter Fiammetta Horvat, who curated her father’s exhibition at Photo London this year, he considered every image “a small miracle” – a hybrid moment of the real and imaginary; seized, captured and immortalised by the lens. 

Horvat’s exhibition alone is enough reason to visit Photo London this weekend. It is almost worth bypassing the main pavilion entirely, and heading straight down to the Embankment Galleries in the far reaches of Somerset House. The Italian-born fashion and documentary photographer is known for challenging the status quo of fashion photography. In 1947, aged 15, Horvat sold his precious stamp collection to buy a camera, and from the late-1950s he had a lengthy career shooting for Life magazine, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. He took models out of the studio and into unconventional locations – outside a London butchers, on the back of a Parisian bus, or on the sidewalk in New York, for example. 

The Red Bustle, by Nick Knight 1986 for Yohji Yamamoto.

In his time, Horvat was always experimenting and adapting to new technologies. Shown in parallel to these forward-thinking images, the same can be said for this year’s Master of Photography, Nick Knight. The British fashion photographer presents a selection of key work from the 1980s to today, including collaborations with iconic designers like Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen. The centrepiece to Knight’s exhibition of huge fashion images is an in-progress sculptural piece about body positivity. As the arches of the basement space echo with the soundscape of an experimental film,  it becomes clear that Knight is an artist who transcends the medium of photography.

“Photography was a gateway into so many other art forms,” says Knight, who began studying medicine before swapping to fine-art. “I picked up a camera one Saturday afternoon, and from then I was obsessed… The camera for me has been a passport to life.” Like Horvat, the 63-year-old photographer is always looking to progress his practice – whether it’s through collaboration, new materials, or technologies like AI and virtual reality. This month, he plans to launch an educational TikTok series about the history of photography.

While Horvat and Knight shine in the Embankment Galleries, the Discovery section steals the show on ground level. Curated by 1000 Words’ editor Tim Clark, the dedicated area for emerging galleries is captivating from the outset. Visitors are greeted by an interactive installation: Walter and Zoniel’s Rainbow Camera. In this giant camera-slash-scanner, we are invited to create an abstract digital collage. In the same entranceway are a row of porcelain vases, presented by Gallery FUMI. Made by the duo known as Glithero, these are printed with silver gelatin photograms of coastal seaweed. Towards the left side of the wing, look out for another set of photograms by recent RCA-graduate Melanie Issaka. Exhibited by the artist-led platform Hi-Noon, the images investigate physical and conceptual nature of Blackness.

Don’t miss the presentation of work by Max Miechowski from Open Doors Gallery. Known for his poetic documents of everyday life, Miechowski was deservedly selected as this year’s Photo London x Nikon Emerging Photographer of the Year. Exploring themes of time, community, and resilience, his sensitive portrayal of people and place grasp the subtleties that underlie our collective human experiences. 

As for the main beast of the fair – a core group of 75 galleries – our recommendation is to make discoveries for yourself. Spread across the central pavilion and the East and the West wings, one could spend hours drifting booth-to-booth. These solo presentations comprise the majority of exhibition space at Photo London, where everything has a price tag. Unless you’re a collector, you may find more interesting – and affordable – bodies of work in the publishers section. Here, you’ll find stalls selling special edition books, magazines and prints, from Aperture, Setanta, Overlapse, Thames and Hudson and more. Look out for a presentation of books longlisted for The Kraszna-Krausz Awards, displaying monumental publications by Deana Lawson, Rhiannon Adam, Agatha Kay, and Gilles Peress, among many more.

But whatever you do, don’t forget to retrieve your complimentary cocktail from the Campari bar, and enjoy the good weather while it lasts. For there are few places more pleasurable than the vast Georgian courtyard of Somerset House, drenched in the warmth of the sun.

Photo London takes place at Somerset House, London, until 15 May 2022.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.