So I attended the London Photo Fair in Bloomsbury yesterday. In the Holiday Inn near Russel Square. I turned up completely skint then in my panic to afford the £3 entry charge opened my wallet knowing that it would be empty but instead finding almost a hundred quids worth of foreign money in there - mostly in Danish Kroner and Euros. After a quick jaunt to the Bureau de Change opposite Kings Cross i re-entered the Hotel lobby and paid my entrance fare and the very first person I lay eyes on is none other than Dr. Stanley Burns, the owner of the largest collection of Post-Mortem photography in the world, The Burns Archive and the author of two (soon 3) exceptionally hard-to-find and subsequently very expensive books on the subject named Sleeping Beauty I and II respectively. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I knew It was him as I had put on a film called Death in America at The Cube in Bristol to which he had contributed and to boot, he had very distinctive glasses. Even though it was only 2pm it was clear he was leaving and as he said farewell to a tiny, squirrel-like guy, I established that I was already way out of my depth, being so new and inexperienced at all this Photo-History business. After circling around a few times and catching his gaze too many times to be comfortable I decided that I didn’t know what I would say or how I would introduce myself - the usual ‘you are a big influence on my work’ kind of rubbish? I don’t think so, thanks - so, I go into the fair.
Inside is a good sized room with tables everywhere but its looking sadly quiet, not too many people around. I say hello to a few friends and it dawns on me that I only have two hours to look at everything and i’m really starting to feel that free money burn a hole in my pocket. I start to get nervous, agitated. I had arranged to meet 3 different people there and every time they approach me I make my excuses and run off. There is a guy there with a table of Daguerreotypes, a few Ambrotypes but thats it. He has some beautiful pieces and i’m drawn to an Ambrotype of a little girl. I’m thinking about that money in my pocket and how I should maybe start a collection of my own. I pass a table run by a young French couple who have some nice things but it seems a bit all over the place. As my French friend is speaking to them, trying to work out if a particular photo is a photogravure, the same squirrelly little man who was talking to Dr. Burns walks past and picks up a Tintype I hadn’t even seen. It looks like a whole plate, well-printed portrait of a working man like a woodcutter or something. This guy, acting like he owns the place, pulls out a wad - and I mean, a WAD - of money, complains that its not even what he usually buys but he can’t resist and pays 250 Euros for it. Barely makes a dent on the wad. I can’t help but curse myself. And him. Not that I would have been able to afford it however. That increasingly measly looking 100 smackers was all I had in the world but gosh-dang, the guy was right, there really was something about that Tintype you couldn't pass up. It was probably for the best. Who knows what the hell I would have done if I'd seen it before him.
So I turn the corner and realise that the squirrel guy has a stall - makes sense - with, of course, a beautiful young European assistant. Seems his name is Andrew Daneman and he represents the Northern Lights Gallery in Brønhoj, Denmark. He has a book sitting there on Tintypes, I assume it is by him but he’s not selling any Tintypes. Strange. What he’s selling doesn’t interest me. Dull yellow, Albumen scenes of cities taken from ships. late 1890's. Yawnsville. I flick through his book but its too small and the paper and print quality isn’t great (especially for the price) so I move on. maybe I should have bought it. Shame there ain't no Tintypes on the stall though.
Opposite that guy its a whole different ball O’ wax: Mixed-race, working class Londoner, missed the turning for the nearest car boot sale and turned up here instead. I like his style. Boxes and boxes of crap. No appearance of order but I know that he knows where everything is. I think, you could make a nice little shop out of all this. A few vintage chairs, coffee table, bookshelves, serve some coffee and cakes. Bam, its a retro-boutique-vintage shop specializing in old photography. They’d love it in Stoke Newington. I’m drawn instantly to a photograph album left open on the table, Other polaroids strewn in faux-haphazard fashion around it, but its telling an interesting story. or at least hinting at the suggestion of one: Pretty young girl, sixteen, seventeen on a seaside trip with an older man, tattoos, beer in hand, no one smiling. Has she been kidnapped? The hint of ‘illicit affair’ is hangs about these images and the few pages of the album with photos stuck into them stop dead before they hit twenty images, leaving a sense that perhaps this story didn’t end so well for the little girl.
To be continued...