Basel week is really intense. I cannot find a better way to describe it. Every year, the Swiss city opens its doors to thousands of people eager to discover the latest developments in contemporary art. Multiple fairs and events take place throughout the city at the same time. Guided tours, external exhibitions or public installations are created in order to accommodate as many visitors as possible. An overwhelming number of artists have the opportunity to exhibit their work and present it to a global audience that could help take their careers to the next level. After all, Basel is the centre of the contemporary art world and attracts all professionals in the field.
At this point, it is quite clear that photography (unfortunately) continues to be an artistic medium that seems to run parallel to other disciplines within the contemporary art market. And although there have been very interesting presentations of exclusively photographic works and series at Art Basel, in general its presence continues to be very minor and it is often associated with other practices.
That is why the presence of a fair like Photo Basel is so important. It is a stage dedicated to highlighting the value of photography and outlining its trends. And although the fair continues to maintain a rather traditionalist vision, it is undeniable that many of the participating galleries present artists to be taken into account.
In parallel to her exhibition at their Houston gallery, Art Is Bond presented a solo booth of Ming Smith’s works, Detroit-born but Harlem based artist who started as photographer and enrolled a collective of African American photographers in New York in the 1960s decade, called Kamoinge. The collective focused primarily on documenting the lives of African-American communities through photography, as well as exhibiting and promoting the work of black photographers. The efforts of Kamoinge were so decisive that Ming Smith became the first black woman photographer to be included in the MoMa collection.
Ming Smith explored the classic genre of street photography and introduced recognizable figures of black culture in his images. Many artists from the music world appear in his black and white images. Her work was pioneering in many ways and helped to highlight the importance of both his neighborhood and artistic community. A great late discovery in what I personally consider, an excellent debut in an international fair for Janice Bond, owner of this young gallery and project space founded in 2022.
Judith Minks’ cinematic images are highly captivating. At first glance, the dim lighting and the shapes that blur the subjects lure the viewer to discover what is happening in the scene. The project began while Judith Minks was working cleaning rooms in a hotel and from creating fantasies about these temporary private places. Mostly shot in her studio, her images show a fascination for detail and composition. In her own words: “I have always been fascinated by the still image because you can take the time to discover every detail”.
I decided to choose this image from The Hotel Room series because I think it encompasses Minks’ practice perfectly. The first thing that strikes the eye is the bright light bathing the bed and the woman’s body that draws a diagonal that visually connects the shadowed door of the bathroom. At the same time, the man’s body remains in semi-darkness next to the rest of the scene creating a visible tension. The image literally refers to artists such as Gregory Crewdson or Edward Hopper, but also to paintings of the Old Masters of the Baroque.
If I had to highlight the artists who have most caught my attention in this first half of the year, Shen Wei would probably be on this list. His portraits deal, in a very sensitive way, with intimacy, solitude and absence; highlighting the interactions between opposing concepts such as darkness and light or noise and stillness.
This balance between these concepts can be seen in this image, which shows the naked artist lying face down in a field of daisies. The softness and neatness of Shen Wei’s body contrasts with the large number of flowers scattered in the field, which have been interrupted by the artist’s arrival. In the background, the image refers to numerous concepts beyond this duality, such as identity and sexual repression in the conservative Chinese mentality.
With a career mainly influenced by commercial photography, Tomo Brejc has been able to solidify his own aesthetic, which comes to the fore in his more conceptual work. In his latest series, he draws on his technical ability to develop a staged documentation that consists of presenting a quotidian image in which there is an underlying narrative.
Waterfall is a good example of what Tomo Brejc wants to achieve. Using a clear visual language, the image shows an exaggerated contrast between the representation of a natural landscape and human civilisation. The artificial environment depicted on the wall practically eclipses the presence of the two subjects sitting behind a fence. The way in which the artist frames the image not only accentuates the scale but also creates an awkward atmosphere.
I first saw Elina Brotherus’ work when I was at university. Later I was lucky enough to discover her images in person at different fairs and exhibitions. Anyone who has seen her images and read a little about photography cannot deny that Elina Brotherus is one of the most prominent names in Finnish art. An importance that has spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
Following on from her already recognisable self-portraits, Artist as Mirror shows the close relationship between Elina Brotherus and History of Art, painting and its iconography. Her photographs have always struck me as fun, referential images wrapped in an aura of mystery in which human figure correlates with landscape.
Sometimes, the message that the artist wants to convey coincides not only with the image itself but also with the technical part that makes up the medium. This is the case of Lea Habourdin’s series Forests. The 16 prints that comprise it were taken in four French forests where she used certain plants to create anthotypes — images created from the chlorophyll of plants. The characteristic colour of each of her prints comes from this photosensitive natural material that functions as a substitute for the chemicals commonly used.
Lea Habourdin has been experimenting with nature to understand the links between humans and wilderness. After numerous attempts and mistakes, she learned to respect time, materials and the randomness of the environment. The colour that emerges from this process depends on the plant used and, due to its origin, has a limited time. The image can last for up to 3 months, after which it becomes a blank sheet of photographic paper.