I arrive at the street entrance, overlooking the river! The information office is not open but am directed upstairs where I speak with a woman who is able to give me a map of where to go for the first talk, an interview with Nick Knight. She looks at my tickets, does not seem to hear what I am saying but hands over a sealed copy of the catalogue which I have ordered and have a print out for. The place seems to be buzzing with excitement yet also a certain amount of confusion!
Over a veggie wrap at the deli, I read a bit of the catalogue. The introductory essay is a blast of information that heralds Photo London as an event not unlike that which celebrated the arrival of punk music, a festival bringing to light the “white hot” creativity present in London. Photography which anyone can participate in is a democratic art.
The talks are to be held in an auditorium that seats well over 100 perhaps as many as 200 people. It is reached down a spindly staircase, a reminder that we are in Somerset House, an old government building, which does not seemed designed for an event such as this.
After a long queuing session, the talk starts almost a quarter of an hour late yet lasts an hour. Autobiographical, Knight is interested in what goes on around the models he photographs and has been making interviews of his subjects asking what the photographs mean to the sitter. He has been videoing himself photographing people since 1989 and so now has a fantastic archive. He did a degree in photography at Bournemouth after giving up his original career choice of being a doctor. I see Martin Parr in the audience.
The next talk follows soon but we are all ordered out (I am asked personally to do so three times by different people as I sit waiting to join the queue) and again we need to queue in the stuffy corridor. Am American woman complains loudly about British air conditioning. A woman asks us to queue in single file against the wall and then says we need not bother. Finally, we are allowed back in to the auditorium.
The atmosphere seems ghastly and I miss the relaxed feel of Photobook Bristol. People are complaining about the queen because the state opening of Parliament (actually it was the Queen’s speech) delayed their journey here. The man introducing the speakers makes a rather dud joke about the queen not being welcome at Photo London. The royal family certainly have a somewhat difficult relationship with photography yet rely on it for their own promotion; in fact, Queen Victoria saw the advantages inherent in photography making the presence of royalty felt around the globe.
Kandar does not like to reveal everything in a picture at once. The less you see of a person in a portrait, the more one needs to personally mine the subject. Admits to making slightly uncomfortable photographs; not trying to impress or ignore the viewer. Kandar uses Photoshop to emphasise light in his images which is often dramatic. Sublime quality to his landscapes. Aware of a difference between commercial work and personal work; it is almost impossible to depend on the latter! Kandar’s work is showing in the Flowers gallery. He is from South Africa originally yet the name sounds Arabaic.
A Garam Assam Chai with a piece of Apple Crumble cake. As I consume this, I read a piece by Francis Hodgson that glorifies Don Mc Cullin, famous for being a war photographer but also competent at other genres such as landscape. Is photography becoming something of a cult? I do not see how it could be. While drinking tea, I see M.Parr again and Dewi Lewis (publisher) through some glass doors and make my way there later. This is an area where books are for sale and there are going to be book signings.
Security is now tighter. I do not have a pass for the day but did manage to attend two talks! With entrance barred to most of what is going on, I make my way on to the terrace and the Real Food restaurant which is in fact an installation for Parr’s latest book called Real Food. It does function as a restaurant which serves somewhat tacky looking food though I am sure I shall try the vegetable pie sometime during the next few days. Characteristic humour from Parr, one of the most brilliant photographers of my generation although many seem to disagree, and who I see again as he turns up for a cup of tea; I decide to likewise indulge before I make my way back to the hotel.