Banking on the growing success of three years in Shanghai, Photofairs launched its inaugural North American edition in San Francisco January 27-29th, arriving at the historic former U.S. Army San Francisco Port of Embarkation, now the picturesque waterfront Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture Festival Pavilion.
Comparatively smaller in scale than other international fairs, this event managed to succeed where even the behemoth ParisPhoto LA could not. As the Bay Area's only fair exclusively dedicated to photographic arts, Photofairs SF distinguished itself by presenting a thoroughly polished and impressive array-- exhibiting a tight, balanced selection of high calibre, thoughtful work.
Thirty four national and international galleries were on hand from fourteen countries, showcasing emerging and recognized artists across the fair’s public program and platforms, including panels, moderated talks and installations.
Photofairs San Francisco’s curation brought together vintage and blue-chip works alongside cutting-edge contemporary photography. Sarah Shepard, PHOTOFAIRS' San Francisco-based manager reported "the response to the scope and quality of the photography presented by both the national and international participating galleries, many of whom brought new works and artists never before exhibited on the West Coast, was overwhelmingly positive."
Key to the buoyant atmosphere was the effortlessly chic, urbane audience crisscrossing the aisles, engaging with gallerists in earnest conversation. And there was much to discuss among the myriad of processes and form; from digital generative to multi-media video and assemblage, to vintage, mid-century and collage.
Among the many superb highlights were pieces seen for the first time, along with a few revisited from PhotoLondon last May. Impressed then, and impressed again, the elaborate series by Julie Cockburn of found photographs embellished with embroidery, manipulated with paint or reassembled, retained their surprise and esprit.
American photographer Tabitha Soren’s unique pigment prints were at once unsettling and magnetic, having been intentionally marred with slashes or punctures.
Veteran contemporary American artist Todd Hido’s melancholy typology ‘House Hunting’ at Casemore Kirby Gallery assembled a collection of 25 out of the total 45 pieces in his 1999 series of eerie night shots.
Experimental pieces were especially striking. Photofairs SF promoted ambitious presentations by emerging and established artists from around the world, providing a glimpse into the sustained creative energy that continues to push photographic boundaries.
The highlights were numerous, but in the absence of a formally published, comprehensive reference catalog, I’ve selected a few :
Among the select group of 20th C. Masters showing at the fair was most notably American photojournalist and Magnum Associate Paul Fusco’s searing historical 1968 documentary series ‘RFK Funeral Train’.
From the gallery description : In 1968, Look Magazine sent Fusco on assignment to cover the train ride from New York to Washington D.C. that carried Robert F. Kennedy’s dead body to his funeral. Fusco trained his lens outside the train, at the crowds of Americans paying homage along the route. Most of the resulting images were never published and only surfaced years later—including 20, from some 2,000 photographs taken on the assignment, that form this portfolio at the fair.
The show-stopping piece was not a true photograph, but a variation. In ‘Form of Light’, Wang Ningde (China) deconstructed an original image form to later reconstruct it for the viewer as an abstract and inverted photographic mirage.
“These are works about photography, not photographic works with the purpose to express something. The following words provide clues to interpreting my works: reality and illusion; light and shadow; horizontal and vertical; fragmented and whole; solid and empty; with and without…”, he explains.
When lit from above, inked mylar ‘film’ strips inserted into a panel cast shadows creating the image. Undeniably stunning, the piece turned heads and caused a palpable stir with viewers.
Fair activities were splendidly enhanced by a visit to the dazzling, redesigned and expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art • SFMOMA – an unforgettable experience that set my heart aflutter with admiration and inspiration.