Martin Parr, who is now in recovery after a cancer diagnosis in 2021, will be celebrated as Photo London’s Master of Photography when the UK’s biggest photography fair returns to London’s Somerset House in May.
Parr is the UK’s best-known photographer and one of the few practitioners of the medium who has developed a profile far beyond the industry. He also leads the pack of documentary photographers who, for the past 50 years, have sought to explore and reflect the identity of the British Isles through what sometimes can appear—intentionally so—as happenstance snaps.
“A hymn to the brilliant, slightly bonkers nation that we call home”
A survey of Parr’s often everyday images, taken over a 52-year stretch, will take up the entirety of the east wing of Somerset House’s Embankment Galleries. Expect colourful, vibrant, often funny photographs of sleeping men under cloudy skies on shingles beaches, of chippies and arcades, bun sales in village halls, tea breaks in mine shafts and pints of bitter at working men’s clubs, of strikes and fights and wealth and poverty, all of which seem to become more relevant by the day.
Michael Benson, the co-founder of Photo London, says that Parr’s photographs of the UK are “a hymn to the brilliant, slightly bonkers nation that we call home”. Since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, Benson has been outspoken about the costs of a such a nationalistic endeavour for international events like Photo London. But, using Parr as a departure point, Photo London will this year focus on Britishness as an idea.
Many of Parr’s most revered contemporaries in the UK are male. But there were, of course, plenty of female photographers also working across Britain during his formative years. Many of them are now just beginning to be recognised. On the opposite wing of the Embankment Galleries, the London gallerist James Hyman will present a survey of works by female British photographers. The exhibition, Writing her own Script; Women Photographers from the Hyman Collection, has been curated by staff from Hyman’s Centre for British Photography, which opened on London’s Jermyn Street in January. It will be divided into two strands: the humanist documentary tradition and a more personal, performative practice. Included in the show will be works by relatively overlooked artists like Jo Spence, Fay Godwin and Sarah Maple, as well as contemporary names such as Juno Calypso.
In February 2022, Benson and his wife and business partner, Fariba Farshad, agreed to sell a 25% stake of Photo London to Scott Gray’s Creo Arts Group, the organisation behind Photofairs and the World Photography Organisation.
Gray has launched a series of successful photography fairs in China, most notably Photofairs Shanghai, which opened in 2014. While he initially focused on giving Chinese collectors access to Western works of art, the opposite is beginning to take place; exhibitors of contemporary Chinese photography are starting to find ways into the UK market.
As it stands, 110 exhibitors, hailing from 55 cities, will be selling works at Photo London, but the fruits of this partnership could result in Photo London providing collectors with a fascinating opportunity to acquire contemporary Chinese photography—alongside the best of British.