In Focus: Photo London / Pen f Impressions

I very nearly didn’t make it to Photo London this year as I had purchased a ticket but ended up with a family event the day I was due to go.  Somerset House does not issue exchanges or refunds so I had to spend an additional £30 for the ticket yesterday.

I thought the price was a bit steep for the exhibition as I believed it was in the marquee in the courtyard of Somerset House.  When I got there I realized it occupied all of Somerset House, all floors and all wings!  I don’t think I have ever been to an exhibition so large, especially one devoted to photography.

As it was a last minute decision to go (after convincing myself I wasn’t going), I didn’t really plan what I wanted to see but managed to make note of a couple exhibitions such as Vivian Maier, Stephen Shore and Martin Parr (whom I didn’t see any work exhibited but I did walk past him outside Somerset House before the show).  I made the decision to see what I wanted first to avoid the crowds and I started with Vivian Maier.

This included some of the Colour Works that we had seen in New York last year (there were some different photos but not as many as exhibited there).  There was also a selection of portraits and street photography by Maier.  What I didn’t realise was that there were a lot of works for sale.  You could pick up a Maier for about £6,000+.

There were plenty of famous photographers and I thought the initial Ansel Adams I saw for £60,000 was expensive but then I saw an original signed Moonrise Hernandez, New Mexico which was selling for £800,000!

I saw a lot of photographs during my day, many I passed by, many I didn’t understand and many that really did grab my attention.  The key thing about Photo London is that there is bound to be something for everyone.

Here is a selection of some of my favourites:

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The crowd attending the exhibition were a mixed bag but there were a lot of well to do people and arty types at the event.

It did annoy me that there seemed to be a lot of people wearing their cameras (Leica’s mainly) like jewellery.  Poncing around like they were in the exhibition.  It really did make me think there is more to photography than the camera that anyone carries and regardless of what equipment you have, anyone can be a photographer.  Just because you own a Leica does not mean you are any good (I’ve sold my Leica so I am no longer part of this exclusive group).

I did see a lot of analogue cameras which was great to see.

I took my newly acquired Pen f and was very pleased with the results from the camera (but more on that later)…

In one of the exhibition spaces, there was a dealer speaking to one of the visitors asking if he was interested in photos or books and the gent responded: “I am a collector, I could buy all of this”.  I wanted to slap him so hard!  How pompous!

Something that struck me was the wealth of topics and types of photographs on display.  It seemed all walks of life were covered and people are truly creative.  Some of the work I simply did not understand nor would I have created it (in some cases I would have assumed the result was a failure), but that’s the value of art, isn’t it?  What works for some…

For all of the training I have completed, the reading I do, the photos I see in exhibitions and events like Photo Monday, Photo London really brought out to me that photography is anything you make it.  It doesn’t have to follow the rule (of thirds), it doesn’t have to be still water long exposures and you don’t need hundreds of macro shots of bluebells…  Truly anything goes and I am in awe of the creativity of those exhibiting.

Not all of the work is to everyone’s taste but I don’t believe it is trying to be – for me the whole exhibition was a great inspirational event.

As you can see from my favourites above, there is a lot to gleam from the world of photography.

The girl’s confused look on the left amuses me.  This is a drag/trans artist whose name I forget!

Of course, as this was a large event in central London, I did see a few celebrities and photographers enjoying the exhibition.  Sharleen Spiteri, James Frain, and Martin Parr to name a few.  This was a reminder about why I love London as you get this eclectic mix of people and no one bats an eyelid (apart from the girl above!).

This was my first time at Photo London and I was not sure what to expect but I took my new Olympus Pen F along in case I wanted to take some shots.  I thought it would be more viewing then photographing but they were open about people taking photos (of course) so I made the most of it.

Initially, I wasn’t going to photograph any of the works out of respect but then decided that I would a) take shots of the work that could not be replicated (and nicked from the web or resold) to protect the artists work and b) showcase the work in context with the people attending the event.

What followed was a Street Photography/Reportage set of photographs that organically seemed to happen.

I started to take some photos early in the exhibition spaces and quickly switched the Pen f to silent so that I could be discreet.

I had previously set up my own monochrome setting and decided to shoot wide open at f/2.8 to allow for the different light in all the various exhibition spaces.

I then set myself the task of collecting shots of interesting people or situations throughout the exhibition.  Taking shots of people studying and interacting with the exhibits.  Both to convey a story about my day and to illustrate the size and scale of some of the works.

The various nooks and crannies of Somerset House also afforded me the opportunity to spot areas of the building where I could take discreet candid shots.

I took my 20mm Lumix lens (40mm equivalent) and 45mm (90mm equivalent), coupled with the all-black body of the Pen f and the silent mode, I could get away almost undetected.  The trick then was to find the people and places I wanted to capture whilst still enjoying the show.

I think I managed this as I spent a good three hours or so wandering around the show, viewing works, learning about particular exhibits and capturing people and opportunities as they arose.

Some of my shots must have been subliminal as I managed to capture about 700 during the course of the day.

I decided to take a look at the photos using the wifi transfer to my phone whilst on the train on the way home.  I had a good impression of how they had turned out as the EVF is very clear on the Pen f and you can see the photo in monochrome in real time when you use the front mode dial on the camera.

However, I was so surprised and pleased by how sharp the photos were straight out of the camera. This is what I wanted with the Lecia X1 but sadly it was slow, there was no viewfinder or tiltable screen.  It didn’t operate as I expected and you couldn’t map the dials.  All of this is possible with the Olympus and as I am used to the software system I got used to it very quickly.

I didn’t know I could change the setup of any of the settings and was amazed by how easy it was to set the camera up for a look I like.  I have set bright highlights and dark shadows.  It may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s something I prefer and now I don’t have to worry about doing this in post.

If I did want to do post-production I have the full RAW files at my disposal and this is has led me to create a couple of diptychs as I love the colour of the RAWs against my monochrome jpegs.  (The photo above of the feathered coat is the RAW straight from the camera).

The Pen f is unexpectedly a new tool giving me more creativity then I had planned and I am super pleased with it (I purchased it as my goto everyday camera!).  My only gripe is I wish I had bought the Pen f sooner.  I also wonder why on earth Olympus have stopped making it!

Here’s a selection of my favourite photographs I took during my visit to Photo London – most straight out of camera (with a few minor tweaks to straighten the photo or crop sightly).

Visitor. f/2.8 1/160 ISO 200 20mm
Treads. f/11 0.4 ISO 200 20mm
Art Dealers Become Art. f/5.6 1/60 ISO 200 20mm
Enthralled. f/2.8 1/6 ISO 200 20mm
Hold on. f/2.8 1/40 ISO 200 45mm
My Bohemian Rhapsody Moment. f/0.8 0.8 ISO 200 45mm
Cigarette Break. f/2.8 1/3200 ISO 200 45mm

If I have learnt one thing from my visit to Photo London it’s this…

You are the photographer, your camera (any camera) is the tool, your photographs are your art and enjoy them for they are yours and are truly unique to you.

There is lots more to share from my day, I hope you enjoy what I have captured during Photo London.  If you attended, what did you think?

Let me know what you think of my monochrome preset, I am interested to hear your views.

I look forward to Photo London 2020.


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