Anna Gaskell

Above: A detail of an art photograph by Anna Gaskell. Credit: Anna Gaskell.

The Decline

Solo exhibitions at a recognized-and-established commercial gallery in London, presenting new-work by a photographer, are becoming a rarity. I am thinking in particular of those who were always being shown in the late-1990s: Vibeke Tandberg, Malerie Marder, Anna Gaskell, Collier Schorr, Hellen van Meene, Jitka Hanzlova, Catherine Yass, Sophie Rickett, Justine Kurland, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sharon Lockhart, Rineke Dijkstra, Bettina von Zwehl, Niki S. Lee, Catherine Opie, Jemima Stehli, Anne Collier, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Elina Brotherus, Sarah Jones, Jane-and-Louise Wilson, Hannah Starkey ... etc.

Without fuss, silently, very quietly, most of the main contemporary art dealers have moth-balled any photographer on the roster. I have seen shows by Ruff and Cindy S. in the last year, that I can think of, but photography generally has dropped away to the extent that it is now possible to see that the 1990s were a definite high-water-mark for art-photography as a collectable art-form. Post-9/11 it has been an inexorable slow retrenchment with painting and sculpture taking back full control and domination as of the last few years.

If we turn to the global-reach mega-galleries, the picture is pretty clear: the trend in the megas is to represent a few male photographers, generally over 50, often over 60. Many of those represented by a mega has not had a show in London in years, in some cases never. (No-one from the above list is repped by a mega--Sally Mann, Taryn Simon and Michel Rovner are the only female photographers repped by any of the big six, and Simon is not really a photographer as such.)

The complete list is fascinating. Hauser: one photographer represented, Don McCullin (age 82). Larry: four photographers represented, Taryn Simon (age 43), Gursky (age 63), Douglas Gordon (age 52), Sally Mann (age 67). Zwirner: six photographers represented, Stan Douglas (age 57), Eggleston (age 79), Tillmans (age 50), James Welling (age 67), Chris Williams (age 62), P-L diCorcia (age 67). White Cube: two photographers represented, Darren Almond (age 46), Jeff Wall (age 71). Pace: three photographers represented, Michel Rovner (age 60), Lucas Samaras (age 82), Paul Graham (age 62). Ropac: no photographers represented.

I would say that the overall market conditions (commercial gallery support and collector interest) for the photographer-as-fine-artist at present are poor--possibly worse than they have been since 1990 (i.e., as far back as my knowledge goes).

(15 September 2018)