London is getting better at showing Fine Art Photography. The number of galleries dedicated to the medium is negligible when compared to New York, mediocre as measured up against Paris and barely on par with the German cities. There is no British national institution dedicated the form, despite the efforts of those at the V&A, National Media Museum in Bradford and major galleries seeking to show more photography like the Whitechapel or the Tate. There are queues round the block to attend Paris Photo every year, the idea of which, to happen here in London, is almost unthinkable.
Some have said that this is due to a lack of a market in collecting the type of Photography that lies between traditional Photojournalism or Conceptual work by artists who use Photography, but in the last couple of years, a number of galleries, and Brancolini Grimaldi was one of the first, have opened and lasted long enough to disprove this argument. Others include the Wapping Project Bankside, Margaret Street Gallery and Paradise Row. Alongside veteran spaces like Atlas Gallery, Flowers, Hamiltons, Timothy Taylor and the Photographer’s gallery, as well as an increasing number of spaces choosing to represent photographers, there are, now, the beginnings of a scene.
Brancolini Grimaldi was launched in 2011 in a first floor space on Albemarle Street, and immediately set out its stall with a roster of blue-chip, internationally established artists as well as some younger, more contemporary practitioners. They represent heavyweights such as Mitch Epstein, Lise Sarfati, Peter Fraser and Joachim Brohm amongst others, but also some newer and edgier British (though internationally recognised) talent such as Dan Holdsworth, Sophie Rickett, Clare Strand and Jackie Nickerson. It’s an astute selection that reflects the gallery’s Italian roots, a certain local appeal for new collectors and a welcome emphasis on female photographers. Most significant, however, was its commitment to Photography in what was, and arguably still is, a nascent niche in a highly competitive marketplace. This commitment was reinforced with the publishing deal they struck with venerable publishing house Steidl in March of this year. The space has now become a firm fixture on the Photography map.
The Summer Show, on until September 1st, is a modest but reflective selection of the stable of artists the gallery represents. First up are some nice early Mitch Epstein works, from when he was still small scale and chronicling the American psyche. Two are from ‘Recreation-American Photographs 1973-1988’ series and one from the outstanding ‘Family Business’. It is interesting to note that in the current climate, this type of early (ish) colour imagery, mainly documenting America, has become the new ‘Classic’.
Massimo Vitali’s stock in trade are huge colour prints of beach leisure from an elevated perspective. The images here seem to be of the British seaside with its vulnerable pallor and futile windbreaking- an oft-depicted exercise in denial. But Vitali has reached his position because his isn’t a fully dispassionate approach. Despite the ‘Topographical’ associations inherent in his process (View Camera, consistent framing/composition), his selections manage to stay just the right side of condescending and actually reflect an empathy that, though comical at times, is attuned to the necessity of the beach exercise in fighting an existential black hole. Warm, not cold.
Representing the ‘young’uns’ are Dan Holdsworth and Sophie Rickett who are both British. Rickett’s work can be as impenetrable as it is interesting. Drawn by the interactions between Man and Nature, the artist has previously developed fascinating strategies to investigate this relationship, but with only a few images on display, it is hard to engage with in this show. Holdsworth’s work is more instant. From the series ‘Transmission: New Remote Earth Views’, the work stems from Holdwort’s appropriation from the US Geological Survey to generate digitally rendered Laser scans of ideologically loaded geological American sites, in this case the Grand Canyon. This is cold work; it even looks cold. The images are like negatives,or lunar landscapes, significant as counterpoints for these over-represented geological monuments, but also interesting their appropriation of scientific imagery to extend the ‘New Topographics’ approach.
It’s impossible not to love Peter Fraser, so it’s great to see his work here. There are also nice works by Marie Amar and Roy Arden on display.
As the London scene develops and hopefully more galleries open, one could well claim that Brancolini Grimaldi were instrumental in reigniting a marketplace that had become consolidated and staid.
Words/Photos Kerim Aytac © ArtLyst 2012