Photography has experienced a significant shift of late. With the advent of powerful smartphone cameras, our ability to document the present – from people and places to valuable moments – has increased rather dramatically. We, as digital natives, are far more inclined to picture and broadcast our personal experiences than ever before. Which begs the question: what makes an exceptional photograph in the modern age? Furthermore, who is pushing the medium forwards, offering innovative new methods, a unique aesthetic or unprecedented viewpoint?
Amsterdam's esteemed Unseen Photo Fair seeks to address and explore many of these concerns through its expansive display of progressive works by emerging and enduring talents. Now in its fifth year, the event sees 53 galleries come together to showcase photographs from a diverse roster of artists – the majority of which have never been presented in a gallery, institute or fair. Having had the pleasure of experiencing Unseen first-hand, AnOther extols its visual highlights, in no particular order.
1: Lluís Hortalà’s Marble Fantasy
In a parallel universe, our entire stationery repertoire would be crafted from marble – the slickest, densest and most opulent material known to man. At least we can visualise the prospect with Lluís Hortalà’s crystal clean rendering of a marble notebook. Beyond its polished composition, the witty paradox that arises from pitching a material that typically denotes power and stature against the ubiquitous banality of a notebook is especially satisfying.
2: Clare Strand’s Game Plan
We've long been fans of Strand’s left-of-field photography, which confronts and manipulates the origins of the medium, resulting in invigoratingly subversive (and, at times, comical) images. For Unseen, the Brighton-based artist presented a vibrant, custom-created hoopla stall titled All That Hoopla, where visitors could pay a small fee for several attempts to toss wooden hoops over the prizes, which just so happen to be individual, limited edition prints of her highly covetable photographs. As a result, Strand encourages a spirited and informal interaction between the artist and the audience, while simultaneously alluding to the market capitalisation that pervades contemporary photography. The experience was aptly surmised by AnOther Magazine's photographic editor, Holly Hay: “It was such a clever way of engaging with some very beautiful work.” Though we didn’t leave with collectable works, our parting gifts – Strand’s witty balloons, printed with All I Won Was This Lousy Balloon – made delightful commiseration prizes.
3: The Poetic Cuts of Katrien de Blauwer
Antwerp-based Katrien de Blauwer feels that 'cutting' is a far more appropriate description of her practice than 'collage', since the latter fails to articulate the proficiency and formal impact of her compositions. Evocative and acutely precise, de Blauwer’s works are not assembled from fragmented parts, but rather an analysis of the components that create a photograph in relation to its subject. “What remains is a highly effective image, hinting at a far more complex narrative,” notes Hay.
4: A Picture of Domestic Bliss
In Fleur van Dodewaard’s Biscuits, what first appears to be a grid of desirable ceramics, is, in fact, an artistic masquerade for a clever arrangement of domestic cleaning products. Individually captured and created in Arita, Japan, the progressive Dutch artist had previously stated that she “tries to get the images close to being objects themselves, questioning the status of the photograph as a window or depiction of reality.” The fallout is a spectacular meditation on colour, shape and texture – and, inevitably, one that we all wish to frame.
5: A New Breed of Photo Zine
“Simple and democratic,” mused Hay, while leafing through a singular copy of 8 Ball Zines. Throughout history, self-published books have allowed artists of all genres to express their ideas freely – and indeed, this was the intent behind Italian Lele Saveri’s aforementioned title, which presents the work of over 40 photographers, from Daniel Arnold to Julian Ward, across 19 countries and four continents. “Every photographer delivered a selection of photos from their country and 8 Ball Zines printed them, laid them out by hand and made copies at their studio in New York,” reveals the accompanying press release. “It’s a collection of really interesting photographers with such different aesthetics, but all presented in the same lo-fi book, and yours for one Euro a pop,” said Hay.
6: Viviane Sassen's Technicolour Musings
The prolific Dutch photographer continues to defy all of our expectations with her richly abstracted, mesmerising works. For Unseen Photo Fair 2016, Sassen presented a small series of new photographs, in which delicate splices of the subject matter were rendered in vivid layers of colour, thus lending a sharp focal point to an otherwise monochromatic backdrop. As Hay explains, “It feels as though you are falling into both her pictures and the world she photographs.”
7: Seated Portraiture
Michael Wolf’s practice is rooted in the intricacies and vernacular culture of the city. From strange corner houses to wellington boots and worn umbrellas, the German-born, Hong Kong-based photographer’s intriguing observations offer a humorous yet fascinating insight into their respective origins. His latest work, which depicts colourful chairs of varying styles, aligned in a similar manner to a mugshot, might just be our favourite yet.
8: Scheltens & Abbenes In Bloom
A longstanding affinity for floral still life led acclaimed photography duo Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes to their latest subject matter: the commercial artwork which graces the Royal Flora Holland vans. So flawless are the tightly cropped, meticulously realised photos of the vehicles which transport their seasonal blooms around the country, that one would be forgiven for thinking they were oil paintings. “It’s another example of not knowing quite what you are looking at, but in the best possible way,” reflects Hay.
9: A Custom Curation
The photographic team at Dazed & Confused has a remarkable eye for spotting the brightest and boldest emerging talents that photography has to offer – as their carefully curated stand at Unseen Photo Festival attests. From the voyeuristic snapshots of Todd Fisher, to the emotionally charged photographs of Dan Regan, and the distinctive analogue musings by London-based Bafic, the stimulating breadth of work on display spoke for itself.
10: Tips and Tricks
What better way to inspire a new generation of budding photography collectors than with a smart-thinking stand, comprising cards with words of wisdom from the fair's seasoned curators? Not only is the takeaway inspiring, but it's also beautifully designed and therefore collectable in its own right.
With special thanks to Unseen Photo Fair.