Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Photo Shows: Autumn 2020

RA Magazine — Autumn 2020

Every spring, hundreds of exhibitors descend on Somerset House for Photo London: an annual pilgrimage for photography aficionados delayed this year by Covid-19. Now, as the art world cautiously returns, the country’s leading photography fair (7–11 Oct 2020) relocates to Gray's Inn Gardens where the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat takes centre stage as the fair’s Master of Photography. Drawing upon lived experiences to explore broader socio-political topics, Neshat tackles her relationship to both Iran, as a woman living in exile, and her host-country the US. Also at the fair, an international roster of galleries and publishers showcase established and emerging photographers, and, whether, by coincidence or design, Photo London preludes a substantial season of photography-focused exhibitions opening across the capital.

The Photographers’ Gallery (6-18 Ramillies St; 9 Oct–07 Feb 2021) hosts the first retrospective of Indian artist Sunil Gupta, who features elsewhere in the magazine. From Gupta’s involvement in New York’s gay liberation movement during the 1970s and the AIDS movement that followed, to his more recent work campaigning in India, the artist employs photography to raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ rights. South African artist Zanele Muholi, the subject of a mid-career survey at Tate Modern (Bankside; 5 Nov–7 March 2021) does the same. In their country violence against the LGBTQIA+ community remains rife despite the post-apartheid constitution outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and legalising same-sex marriage. ‘What is important to me is how my work challenges and contributes to society and the place of Black LGBTQIA+ people within it,’ says Muholi, who describes themselfas a ‘visual activist’. The exhibition includes their series ‘Faces and Phases’, a growing archive of black-and-white portraits affirming Black LGBTQIA+ individuals from South Africa and beyond.

The late South African photographer David Goldblatt also dedicated himself to black-and-white images when he photographed his country during apartheid. ‘Colour seemed too sweet a medium to express the anger, disgust and fear that apartheid inspired,’ said the photographer, who was one of the central documentarians of the era. Now Goodman Gallery presents Goldblatt’s first UK solo exhibition since the 1980s with work spanning the breadth of his career (26 Cork Street; until 15 Sep). Photographs of Johannesburg revealing the racial and social inequality of the city feature alongside a 1972 photo-essay capturing the everyday lives of the Black population of Soweto, the former-township west of the city.

The US photojournalist Gordon Parks also chronicled race relations, civil rights-era activism and urban life, bearing witness to the discrimination against the American Black community during the latter half of the twentieth century; an issue that remains endemic and has come to the fore in recent months, with worldwide protests calling for systemic change. Park’s documentation of racial divisions in 1950s Alabama and of the Black Power Movement in 1960s New York and Chicago both featured in the first instalment of a two-part exhibition at Alison Jacques Gallery. ‘Gordon Parks: Part Two’ (18 Berners St; until 1 Oct 2020) showcases his portraits of Muhammad Ali taken in London and Miami, between 1966 and 1970, capturing the boxer at the height of his career.

At Pace Gallery in the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens building, artist Trevor Paglen explores the overlooked politics and biases inherent in images themselves (10 Sep–10 Nov). A new body of work examines how machine learning and artificial intelligence shape society and perpetuate forms of racism, patriarchy and class division. Paglen reveals a set of large-scale photographs depicting formations of flowers, which appear real but are, in fact, generated by computer vision algorithms, invented to analyse real-life images. Meanwhile, flowers take on a different significance in the work of Cornelia Parker RA, who exploits the possibilities of printmaking to transform natural forms and small domestic objects into abstract shapes. Inspired by the photography-pioneer William Fox Talbot’s first photographic images, Parker returns to the medium’s origins: she employs the photogravure process, developed by Talbot and Nicéphore Niépce during the nineteenth-century, to create a new series of monochrome prints, presented at nearby Cristea Roberts Gallery (43 Pall Mall; 23 Oct–21 Nov).