There was a phrase which surfaced during conversations over the weekend at Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam, and it was “it is a fair, and not a festival...” Why this phrase kept coming up was through a dialogue between artists, curators, and publishers alike there stood the idea that you weren’t going to be greeted by any ground-breaking, disturbing bodies of work or exhibition alone – as Unseen is a fair, and a fair is a commercial venture designed to equally appease and set the market tone. Fairs are about selling, they cost a lot of money to put on and relatively great expense for all those galleries pitching a booth and working their corner. So, unlike a festival, the element of risk is downplayed and galleries show commercially viable, accessible, visually seductive works to bring in the buyers.
The great thing about Unseen though, is that it is a fair which has all the coolness and flare of a festival. The phrase resurfaced as people needed to remind themselves despite the fair’s energetic festival appearance it is still ultimately about selling prints and people working. This is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is the future and probably the smartest way for all these festivals and fairs to go. Why not mix a little of one with the other? The photography market and art buying public are a small enough share, and getting new, affordable works by emerging and unrecognised talents is an often overlooked necessity, so Unseen strikes an enthusiastic cord with everyone it seems.
An international line-up of galleries were situated in a manageable site, with public talks, screenings and even performances, such as the omnipresent Foam Talent winner Daisuke Yokota making prints, and Self Publish, Be Happy’s Totem and Taboo performances by Lorenzo Vitturi and Tom Lovelace, there were brief bursts of inquisitive activity. The Book Market was superbly placed within the grounds giving it a substantial anchoring position and guaranteeing to get the crowds. There was a good buzz in the Market, even if sales could be slow, the quality by independent publishers was of the usual high standard.
Of course not all the names at Unseen were “unseen” as the list includes some of the most well known names in contemporary photography, yet the award for this goes to Flowers Gallery for hanging a Burtynsky piece. On the whole the works on display were kept within reasonable scales and prices with a notable attention given to those working with traditional printing methods and a very hands-on technique such as Julie cockburn (The Photographers’ Gallery), or Anna Vogel (Conrads). From Takashi Kawashima (G/P) to Lina Scheynius (Christophe Guye) to Chloe Sells (Michael Hoppen) it was a decent cross-section of where contemporary photography is right now, and that appears to be a vibrant place, where photographers are freely using a multitude of techniques both old and new, creating a language that steadily defines a new scope for the medium as an artform. Just as a fair seems to work better with a little festival thrown in, photography seems to work better with a little cross-pollination too.
Images 1. Chloe Sells 2. Daisuke Yokota 3. Lorenzo Vitturi 4. Lina Scheynius 5. Anna Vogel 6. Tom Lovelace
— Barry W. Hughes