Overlooked artists to get their dues at Photo London 2024

Exploration I © Maheder Haileselassie, courtesy the artist and Koop Projects

Curated by Charlotte Jansen, the Discovery section is the destination for more experimental and emerging artists

“I’m really happy with how it has shaped up because we have galleries from far and wide,” says writer and editor Charlotte Jansen, who is curating this year’s Discovery section at the Photo London Fair. “It’s a very high standard of work, and a nice representation of a global community.”

Gathering galleries which are about eight years old or less, Discovery is a place to find lesser-known artists and their representatives, some of whom are younger and still emerging – but some of whom, as Jansen points out, have been unfairly overlooked. In this year’s Discovery section, located at the heart of the Somerset House showcase, Jansen has included an international roster of galleries showing more women artists than men; it also includes radical image-makers with little-seen work stretching back 50 years, and artists with multidisciplinary practices. 

Take Koop Projects, for example. Founded by Helen Rogers in Brighton in 2022, its work is founded on its belief in “Contemporary African art and artists as a dynamic source for learning and change.” Koop is presenting four women artists from South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique in Discovery, including Maheder Haileselassie, who was born and raised in Addis Ababa. Haileselassie makes work around photography, history, and anthropology, and is showing pieces from the series Between Yesterday And Tomorrow. Inspired by her father’s history books, it combines 19th-century archives with family photographs and her own contemporary images.

Sweet Lady Val, 2019 © Kennedi Carter, courtesy Cierra Britton Gallery
The X-pression Series #1, 2022 © Satchel Lee, courtesy Cierra Britton Gallery

“JK Lavin just hasn’t really been recognised or been paid the dues she deserves for that work for so long…Sadly, that’s a frequent story for female artists.”

Elsewhere, Discovery includes Cierra Britton Gallery, founded in 2021 by its eponymous owner as “the first NYC-based gallery dedicated to representing BIPOC womxn artists whose work contributes to the contemporary cultural dialogue across the globe.” Britton is presenting a dual exhibition titled Body & Soul, which is dedicated to Kennedi Carter and Satchel Lee. “Rising above the long and problematic history of Black bodies being seen predominantly through the white male gaze in visual culture, each of these artists have radically established their presence in contemporary photography by telling personal and communal; stories through their lens,” the gallerist states.

“It will be one of the highlights,” says Jansen, who is a photography critic for The Guardian, has written two books on image-makers, and curated Birth at TJ Boulting in 2019, featuring photographers Poulomi Basu, Juno Calypso, Carmen Winant and others. “Cierra isn’t only in photography, which is super interesting and very relevant – photography influences everything, so there should be that exchange with visual culture and art, rather than having photography syphoned off on its own. And there is also a really nice conversation between the work of the two artists [Britton] is bringing.

“Both [Carter and Lee] are amazing artists in their own right, but they’re both working with portraiture – Satchel with self-portraiture – and both will be showing portraits of women taken on sofas or couches,” Jansen continues. “There’s that idea of a safe space, how the body reacts to that safe space, and how different aspects of your subject might reveal themselves in that scenario.”

Eye 1, 1977 © JK Lavin, courtesy AltaVista Arts

Alta Vista Arts was founded in Los Angeles in 2023 with a focus on female photographic artists, meanwhile, and is devoting its presentation to JK Lavin. It is showing two of her series: Crisis of Experience, a series of self-portraits taken daily with a Polaroid SX70 camera from 1979 to late 1987, and IF, a series of silver gelatin self-portraits created with photo booth machines in 1977. Both explore female identity, and both have been little-known since their creation. “She’s an incredible artist, but has never shown her work in the UK before,” Jansen explains. “She just hasn’t really been recognised or been paid the dues she deserves for that work for so long, because it connects with so many artists over time. Sadly, that’s a frequent story for female artists.”

Jansen has also been keen to broaden the kind of organisation invited to Discovery, expanding beyond traditional galleries to encompass structures “outside the conventional framework”. Norwegian artists Tonje Birkeland and Maria Pasenau are presenting a two-person booth around performative self-portrait photography, for example, while Christine Wilkinson, Gina Cross, Jo Bradford, and Kate Banazi are bringing a more cooperative approach under the umbrella of Gina Cross Projects. They’re also presenting abstract work that sits more squarely within a fine art practice – as is Mia Liu, who is exhibiting with the Taiwanese Up Gallery.

“Mia creates amazing hand-made photo sculptures,” Jansen says. “She takes photographs out in nature, comes back, prints them herself, then strips out the silver gelatin and makes these sculptures out of them. The objects themselves are beautiful, and also for me they make me think about photography and its relationship with walking, with going out and exploring and how we assimilate that in a physical way.”

Eyes of Ipek © Cihan Öncü, courtesy DIRIMART
Untitled, 2022 © Selim Süme, courtesy Versus Art Project

Beyond Photo London’s Discovery section, a special presentation of Turkish photography is being supported by TurkishBank. This project is “close to my own heart,” says fair director Kamiar Maleki, who previously headed up Contemporary Istanbul, VOLTA Art Fairs in NYC and Basel, before joining PhotoLondon last year. In total, eight galleries from Istanbul have been invited: DIRIMART, Galeri Nev Istanbul, GALERIST, March Art Project, SANATORIUM, Versus Art Project, Vision Art Platform and Galeri Nev Istanbul, showing work by image-makers such as Cihan Öncü, Mert Acar, Selim Süme and Sergen Sehitoglu.

Photo London’s public programme includes The Magic Art of French Calotype: Paper Negative Photography 1846 – 1860 presented by dealer Robert Hershkowit, meanwhile, and a celebration of 25 years of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation’s permanent collection, in which director Anne-Marie Beckmann and curator Renée Mussai curate ten artists. The Master of Photography this year is French artist Valerie Belin, and Photo London x Nikon is showing work by selected emerging photographers too.

Street Vendor c.1852 by Charles Nègre, courtesy Robert Hershkowitz Ltd. From the exhibition The Magic Art of French Calotype: Paper Negative Photography 1846 – 1860

Publisher Thames & Hudson is curating the main fair talks programme, with contributions from Nikon and FT Weekend, while Jansen has curated a series of talks and discussions around the Discovery section, including some of the featured artists plus guests including writers Precious Adesina and Gem Fletcher, and curators Alona Pardo and The Photographers’ Gallery’s Anna Dannemann. “I’m pleased to be able to get more people in [to Photo London],” Jansen says, though she adds she’s considering how to do more when she returns to curate Discovery next year. 

“Currently we don’t have any galleries from Africa, which is disappointing,” she points out. “There are various reasons why, including logistics and finance, so I’m trying to find ways to support that for the future.”

Photo London Fair is at Somerset House, London, from 16-19 May