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In focus — What to see around Photo London

Chris Mugan rounds up the shows and exhibitions happening alongside the photography fair, which range from images of conflict at the Imperial War Museum to a selection of 24 young artists ‘shaping the future of photography’

This month Photo London  returns to the UK’s capital for the third time. Now firmly established as a key fixture in the city’s arts calendar, the success of the three-day fair encourages private galleries and public museums to show must-see work, as this round-up demonstrates:

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  • Photo London Somerset House, May 18-21

After consolidating its position as the UK’s leading photography fair last year with just its second edition, for 2017 Photo London  aims to be more radical, says co-director Michael Benson. ‘We want Photo London  to be the place for people who are interested in the future of photography as well as the past. [Exhibitors] coming to the fair should bring new works, new artists or gems from history.’

William Klein, Dorothy, 1962. Gelatin silver print. Printed later. 50 x 60 cm (20 x 24 in). © William Klein courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London

William Klein, Dorothy, 1962. Gelatin silver print. Printed later. 50 x 60 cm (20 x 24 in). © William Klein courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London

As well as selecting 97 exhibitors representing 17 countries, Benson’s team reflects the fair’s direction via a pair of commissions for its pavilion: an 18-metre mural from the legendary photographer William Klein, and an installation from upcoming South Korean artists Bae Bien-U and Noh Suntag.

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  • Wolfgang Tillmans Tate Modern, ends June 11

Among the most vibrant shows in London this month, the work of the German artist shows life in all its messy fecundity, from Berlin’s club scene to Saudi Arabian street life, in a major exhibition that showcases work across various media since 2003.

Wolfgang Tillmans, astro crusto, 2012. © Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans, astro crusto, 2012. © Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans, Tukan, 2010. © Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans, Tukan, 2010. © Wolfgang Tillmans

Photography, though, remains key, with an arresting mix of portraits, still lifes and abstracts, a variety that may surprise aficionados. ‘British audiences associate Wolfgang with work he was doing in the Nineties,’ says assistant curator Emma Lewis, ‘but it has evolved so much since then, with more experimentation.’

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  • Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask National Portrait Gallery, ends May 29

This engrossing exhibition brings together two artists from different eras with shared concerns in identity and self-image. A Turner Prize-winner, Wearing is perhaps best known for her unsettling self-portraits, while her French predecessor engaged with surrealism in the 1930s. Both use photography in different but fascinating ways, argues assistant curator Tanya Bentley.

Gillian Wearing, Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face, 2012 © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

Gillian Wearing, Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face, 2012 © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

‘It was thought that Cahun had no formal training and the resulting photographs were very much private endeavours... yet her images are utterly compelling because of the beautiful theatricality of the compositions,’ says Bentley. ‘In contrast, Wearing has used photography throughout her professional career and has received much critical acclaim for her exhibitions.’

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  • Deutsche Börse Prize 2017 Photographers’ Gallery, ends June 11

The Photographers’ Gallery presents the shortlist for its prestigious annual award, held in conjunction with the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, this year featuring Sophie Calle, Dana Lixenberg, Awoiska van der Molen and Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs.

Dana Lixenberg, Toussaint, 1993 © Dana Lixenberg. Courtesy of the artist and Grimm, Amsterdam

Dana Lixenberg, Toussaint, 1993 © Dana Lixenberg. Courtesy of the artist and Grimm, Amsterdam

Nominated for specific projects or publications from the previous 12 months, 2017’s high fliers share an interest in challenging the medium and testing its unique capacities. ‘Each project does this in a unique and interesting way,’ explains curator Anna Dannemann. ‘And all of them explore personal and collective truths.’

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  • Sergey Ponomarev: A Lens on Syria Imperial War Museum, ends September 3

This powerful show introduces one of the few photojournalists working in the part of Syria ruled by President Assad. A Pulitzer Prize and Robert Capa Gold Medal-winner, Ponomarev focuses on wartime civilians’ daily lives, from children to shopkeepers, capturing striking images despite close supervision.

Sergey Ponomarev, Homs, Syria, 14 June 2014. Assad’s Syria (2013-2014). © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Sergey Ponomarev, Homs, Syria, 14 June 2014. Assad’s Syria (2013-2014). © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

‘It is an honest account and there is always a subtext to the image,’ explains Hilary Roberts, the Imperial War Museum's Research Curator of Photography. ‘You see what the authorities would like you to see, but there are other messages hidden in his painterly style.’ The exhibition also includes the Russian photographer’s coverage of the European refugee crisis in 2015-16.

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  • Foam Talent | London Beaconsfield Gallery, Vauxhall, 18 May to 18 June

For a snapshot of upcoming talent, head south of the Thames to Vauxhall where, for the second year running, Amsterdam’s cutting-edge Foam Fotografiemuseum brings its touring show of promising under 35s. For a show subtitled 24 young artists shaping the future of photography, Foam magazine’s editorial team had to choose from 1,494 submissions.

Juno Calypso, Eternal Beauty II, 2014. Film Still 2014 from the series The Honeymoon. Courtesy of the artist

Juno Calypso, Eternal Beauty II, 2014. Film Still 2014 from the series The Honeymoon. Courtesy of the artist

The resulting diversity poses a challenge for curator Mirjam Kooiman, who nevertheless detects a couple of emerging themes: ‘Female photographers are looking at notions of female beauty and bodies. It's a strong response to editorial photography where there’s a lot of idealisation, and artists are redefining images in a sculptural manner.’

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  • Photographs at Christie’s King Street, 18 May, 12pm, works on view May 13-17

Brian Duffy (1933-2010), David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, contact sheet, 1973. Signed in ink and blindstamped archive credit (margin); credited, signed by Chris Duffy and numbered 4350 in ink in archive stamp (verso); and on accompanying Certificate of Authenticity, imagesheetflush mount 25 x 25 in (63.5 x 63.5 cm). Estimate £10,000-15,000. This lot is offered in Photographs on 18 May 2017 at

Brian Duffy (1933-2010), David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, contact sheet, 1973. Signed in ink and blindstamped archive credit (margin); credited, signed by Chris Duffy and numbered '43/50' in ink in archive stamp (verso); and on accompanying Certificate of Authenticity, image/sheet/flush mount: 25 x 25 in (63.5 x 63.5 cm). Estimate: £10,000-15,000. This lot is offered in Photographs on 18 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Irving Penn (1917-2009), Miles Davis, New York, 1986. Signed, titled, date of image and of print and variously annotated in ink, stamped copyright credit annotated courtesy of Warner Brothers in ink, and edition (mount, verso), imagesheet 14½ x 15 in (36.7 x 38 cm). Mount 19⅜ x 15⅜ in (49.2 x 39 cm). Estimate £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Photographs on 18 May 2017 at

Irving Penn (1917-2009), Miles Davis, New York, 1986. Signed, titled, date of image and of print and variously annotated in ink, stamped copyright credit annotated 'courtesy of Warner Brothers in ink, and edition (mount, verso), image/sheet: 14½ x 15 in (36.7 x 38 cm). Mount: 19⅜ x 15⅜ in (49.2 x 39 cm). Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Photographs on 18 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Once again, Christie’s hosts a sale of covetable, mainly modern images to coincide with Photo London  — a sale that covers a broad range of modern practice, featuring such 20th-century icons as Richard Avedon, Araki and Erwin Blumenfeld.

Head of Sale Jude Hull picks out three key themes: contemporary, icons and fashion, the latter showcased in work by Guy Bourdin. ‘He is known for his surrealist fashion photography,’ says Hull, ‘but there's not a lot of it on the market, so we're excited to be presenting it.’

Other highlights include Miles Davis immortalised by Irving Penn, a Brian Duffy contact sheet showing David Bowie evolve into his Aladdin Sane character for the album cover of the same name, and boundary-pushing work from Richard Mosse.