David Bowie struck me as I raced around the photo art fair at Somerset House. I only had an hour to tour over 85 galleries and exhibitions. Didn’t Bowie deserve more than the fleeting seconds the fast passing countdown allowed?
David Bowie (or at least portraits of him) were at Photo London, a massive Photo Art Fair that takes place at Somerset House. It is an ambitious event bringing together artists, galleries, enthusiasts and buyers into the historical palace on the Thames.
The event creates a tremendous opportunity to see a lot of photographic art. I was there to document the event for the Royal Photographic Society and a French Gallery had also asked me to photograph their particular exhibits in situ. It did not take much persuading for me to go. I love to look at great photographs, it informs my work and is inspirational.
85 Galleries is a lot to view and take in. The casual visitor is, probably, going to be very quickly overwhelmed. Not only by the sheer volume of pictorial delights but also by the labyrinth of Somerset House. I wonder what Edward Seymour the Duke of Somerset and progenitor of Somerset House would make of the use of his symbol of power?
To be fair though I suspect the purely casual opportunistic visitor to this event is on the rarer side of attendees.
The public persona of Photo London is the presentation of photography as an art form, in the many guises that can take. However, artistic photographers also, generally, want to sell their work or get funding for their next project. So without a doubt Photo London is also heavily commercial and about wealth. This is an Art Fair but it is also a Trade Fair.
This brings me back to David Bowie. As I passed by the galleries trying to gather scene setting photographs the recently deceased legend really stuck out. Bowie managed to do what so many artists long to do, he made his art pay.
Art and money have always had a twisted relationship. Art is often presented as an ideal that is better than money. Yet without access to funds, every artist is stifled in the pursuit of their vision. Whether it be the funds to develop skills, or set aside time to create the artist needs resources, i.e. money. History is littered with the tragedy of artists, like Vincent Van Gogh, who were only ‘discovered’ after their deaths. Of course one can argue on the creation of art that life experience is as informative to the artist as skill itself, perhaps more so. So give Van Gogh success early in his career and who knows what masterpieces might be missing from our cultural inheritance today.
But is that really fair to expect, to want, the artist to starve? The creation of art is often equated with passion. Passion in its literal sense means to ‘suffer’. This of course returns us to the ‘suffering artist’, a romantic image. But suffering, passion comes in many forms, it does not have to mean financial destitution as the late great David Bowie demonstrated, producing artistic work of admired quality right up to his death, despite his commercial success.
So photography art fairs and other artistic events exist within that irresolvable tension. The ideal of art, as beyond money within cultural views but the reality than everyone needs money to survive and thrive within a capitalist system.
The grand art fair that Photo London is brings together artistic quality and financial opportunity. The images of David Bowie remind me that art and money are not exclusive and access to one can (but not always) lead to the other. What do you think?