People! Previews are often notorious for the free-loaders wanting the vino and nibbles, but the other night at the London Photo Festival (LPF) there was a completely different breed of first-nighters. Each to a man (and woman!) were engaging with the photography and discussing in a way that I find rare in many PVs: a genuine passion in the work. Looking at the light, discussing the locations, the faces, the compositions. Most of the people I spoke to were buyers, creatives or supporters of the photographers who had come along to view the work and the photographers who were there were there to see what others were doing, to meet, talk about work and projects. Was a lively evening.
One of the strengths of the LPF is the diversity and quality in the work. You would have no idea that some of these photographers were amateur or semi-pros. Such is the nature of the “image” and of course sparks more debate over what makes a good saleable image: is it composition, technical prowess, the camera or the letters after someone’s name. Like all “art”, critique is subjective and comes down to your own taste.
As some of you know, I’m often labelled a documentary photographer, a label I like and that sits well with me. The need and compulsion to tell a story is like a drug. A passion to share the story to a wider audience. I had a wonderful conversation with Giles Duley, who was judging the competition. Giles, often in the magazines and the media because of his amazing photographs, in 2011 he hit the headlines for the wrong reason. In the February of that year he stood on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) which left him fighting for his life and resulted in him losing both his legs and his left arm. This man has such an indomitable spirit, or as he put it himself he is “stubborn” which enabled him to fight against opinion that he wouldn’t walk again, and was back out in Afghanistan capturing once again all sides of the conflict. I bought his book, which I can wholeheartedly recommend, the cover is a simple, understated cardboard brown with his name printed modestly at the bottom and Afghanistan 2012 at the top right. For £15 it’s an inspirational and moving document of the victims of war. The opening quote by Sartre is the backdrop you “read” these images against: “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die”. When you close the book, you know this is a fact. It takes a photographer with that heart and sensitivity to capture these images that are not pitiful, they are straight from the hip honest, he lets the people in the photographs speak to you which I think is the mark of a remarkable photojournalist. And his next stop? The Congo… of course! He wants to help tell a story (which is a passion I share) that there are SO many sides to Africa, not just this tunnel vision that is constantly fed in the western media. I’m heading out to the Horn of Africa later in the year to help continue that story, I hope somehow to pick up a virtual baton from Giles.
So for me, what were the highlights of the LPF, which grows every year and this year was twice as big with more exceptional talent celebrated I thought. Have a look at the catalogue which is still online, and you can buy direct too. I’m drawn to faces lately, which means my judgement may be a little cloudy! Maroussia Mbaye shot two great close ups of a young kid (Matoi) and an older man (Wrinkles of Life) which sit well together as a piece of photographic time travel plus some other great shots of characters she’s met and captured on the road (she’s one to look out for methinks!); Shauneen Kelly’s two fabulous right of centre tribal portraits: eyes directly at camera, boys of the same age from different sides of the world; Melissa North’s classic travel images of Machu Picchu, Bolivia and beyond which could be sold as stock or as canvases as they stand tomorrow; or maybe Sharon Jenkins with her Elliot Erwitt-esque woman with umbrella and dog on a rain drenched promenade. But I’ll leave you to have a look at the catalogue and maybe leave a comment below which one you thought should win. Giles chose Katelynn Mingyu’s black and white “Passenger” which is a centralised photo of a woman looking out of a train. For him it summed up travel, on both sides of the coin as a traveller experiencing the journey as well as a simple capture of a moment’s travel.
Written by Vanessa Champion
Missed this one? Make sure you put this date in your diary: 3rd – 5th October 2013, The Crypt, Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA Free Entry to the Public, Unique photographic art for sale. If you are a photographer contact Emma or Kit for submission guidelines.