The Special Edition of The London Photograph Fair, the longstanding tabletop fair, was a far more interesting affair this year than last. With just 17 exhibitors, it was much smaller than the Photo Paris Vintage Fair organized by Bruno Tartarin, but it was well worth the visit and then some. Held during Photo London at the the Great Hall at King's College, London, the show is part of the year-round schedule for this fair.
There was fine material offered here by Pierre Spake, Christophe Lunn, Bruno Tartarin and the others. Richard Meara had an extremely fine Rejlander, which had buyers queuing up.
I noted several dealers and collectors making a straight line for Linus Carr's stand, and, as one of them commented, "There's probably more action on Linus Carr's stand, than there is in all of the west wing at Photo London right now". And among the material on offer, there was a large group of vintage Munkácsi prints.
But the standout material here could be found in two collections presented separately by Daniella Dangoor and Andrew Daneman of Northern Light. Dangoor presented an extraordinary collection of 42 images of samurai, taken between 1858 and 1877, when the samurai class was abolished. The collection was accompanied by a detailed catalogue, researched and written by Sebastian Dobson, one of the leading authorities on early photographs of Japan.
Dangoor told me: "The collection has been built up over 20 years and records the encounter between the beginnings of photography in Japan and the end of the samurai class. Among the named European photographers are Nadar, Disderi, Beato, and among the Japanese, Ueno, Suzuki and Shimooka. There are samurai scholars in Nagasaki, samurai officials posing in New York, the brother of the last Shogun photographed in Marseilles attended by his bodyguard, a group of anti-foreign samurai from the Satsuma clan gathering in a Yokohama studio in apparent readiness for the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate."
I was particularly fascinated by the Suzuki portrait of a young samurai dressed in full armor, looking wistfully to the side, knowing that the role he had trained for since childhood was about to be abolished.
Daneman presented an equally impressive collection, just over 300 cyanotypes by Frank Bird Masters. The images were of American railroads, trains, wagons, bridges, warehouses, supply stores, tools, workers, stationmasters and their families. While some images were of a documentary character, many others showed the photographer's distinct modernist vision, with surprising angles, close-ups and abstractions, all the hallmarks of the Modernist photography championed first by Paul Strand in 1916, then followed by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Charles Sheeler, Edward Weston and Walker Evans. Except these were taken some 10 years before Strand's modernist images.
Daneman told me, "Frank Bird Masters qualifies as The Unknown Modernist, the reason being that he never exhibited or published his photographs. He took them to use as aids in his work as an illustrator. If he had exhibited or published them, he would have been known as a pioneer of photography."
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for I Photo Central.