London Gallery Weekend: best shows for photography fans

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Morgan Otagburuagu
Doyle Wham, 91A Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY, until 10 June

Morgan Otagburuagu’s Bountiful (2023)

Courtesy of the artist and Doyle Wham

A decade ago, it was difficult to find a single exhibition in London of contemporary African photography. Not anymore. Figurative art from Africa has become a mainstream preoccupation for the art market. But never before has an entire gallery dedicated itself to the essential artistic medium of the world’s fastest changing continent.

Doyle Wham, a gallery located in a former warehouse in Shoreditch, was launched in 2022 by Imme Dattenberg-Doyle, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, and Sofia Carreira-Wham, a Classics graduate from the University of Cambridge. Both Doyle and Wham are in their 20s: their roster includes African artists of the same generation, like the Gabonese photographer Yanis Davy Guibinga, and more established artists, like the Cameroonian photographer Angèle Etoundi Essamba.

But the chosen artist for London Gallery Weekend is the Nigerian photographer Morgan Otagburuagu; this is his first solo exhibition worldwide. The artist, born in 1997 in Nigeria’s coastal city of Port Harcourt, and now based in Lagos, is a graduate in computer science but committed to photography after the death of his parents in 2021. His portraits focus on the “inherent beauty” of the Black female form, the artist says.

Thomas Struth
Galerie Max Hetzler, 41 Dover Street, W1S 4NS, 2 June–29 July

Thomas Struth’s ProtoDUNE, EHN 1, CERN, Prévessin-Moens 2023 (2023) Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler

On view for the first time in the UK, at the London outpost of the German Galerie Max Hetzler, are Thomas Struth’s photographs of the European Center for Nuclear Research (Cern), the world’s largest scientific facility.

Struth initially studied painting at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie under the eye of the once-unheralded professor Gerhard Richter, and then as one of the academy’s first photographic students under the aegis of Bernd and Hilla Becher. That period culminated in a residency at New York, during which Struth created dispassionate studies of the Manhattan cityscape that positioned him as the Bechers’ standard-bearer; a photographer whose studies of the built landscape can reveal, if you look closely enough, secret human histories.

CEern, then, is the perfect subject for Struth. This machine has been built to answer the questions of our existence. Its surfaces hold clues to its secrets within, secrets that might forever evade our full understanding.

Maisie Cousins
TJ Boulting, 59 Riding House Street, W1W 7EG, until 17 June

Maisie Cousins’s Walking Back to Happiness (2023) Courtesy TJ Boulting

TJ Boulting was the first gallery to display Maisie Cousins’s photography. Her first exhibition, hosted by the gallery in 2017, was titled grass, peonie, bum. The title of the show matched its content: not exactly subtle, not very elegant. But direct, garish and overly sensual.

Cousins recently moved out of London to live in a seaside town on the south coast with her first child. Her new series is titled Walking Back To Happiness and seems to mediate, with an ambiguous, multivalent power, on her move away from the city—and away from the adrenal rush of care-free youth.

The photography on display here—including, most notably, a series of images created via an artificial-intelligence image generator— communicate complicated feelings about her childhood, her family, her responsibilities as a young mother and her relationship with the town she now calls home. The AI images are a machine’s response to a series of childhood memories Cousins fed it as ‘prompts’, while her photographs focus on the seaside paraphernalia that is designed to appeal to small children—sweets, inflatable or plasticised toys, theme park rides. The artist is interested in “the uncanny”, she says, and how this relates to the feelings of “nostalgia, feeling of uncertainty and unease” which we all carry around inside of us.

Oliviero Toscani
Mazzoleni, 15 Old Bond Street, W1S 4AX, until 4 June

Oliviero Toscani’s San Francesco (2019)

© Oliviero Toscani. Courtesy the Artist, Mazzoleni, London – Torino

The Milanese photographer Oliviero Toscani worked as the art director of the Italian fashion label United Colors of Benetton from 1982 to 2000. Throughout that 18-year period, Toscani oversaw advertising campaigns that, today, remain touchstones in how to reach a mass audience through controversial and confrontational visual marketing.

Toscani, born in 1942, grew up as Italy reformed itself after the fall of Mussolini. As a commercial artist, he was ahead of his time, seeming to presage advertising’s current engagement with geopolitical and social justice issues. For Benetton’s billboards, he photographed a man in the advanced stages of Aids, on the edge of death, surrounded by his family. He photographed a newly born baby, covered in their mother’s fluids, umbilical cord yet to be cut. He confronted racism—one campaign featured black and white hands handcuffed together. Or three human hearts; red, sinewy, fleshy muscles, upon which were written the words “white”, “black” and “yellow”. His campaigns dealt with anorexia, domestic violence and repressed sexuality, each time garnering outrage from conservatives.

A retrospective of Toscani’s work is now on show at Mazzoleni gallery, which is based between London and Turin, titled Toscani Chez Mazzoleni. Do the images Toscani made 30 years ago remain relevant today? Are they now irredeemably dated, or pioneers of a new consciousness? The debate is live.

Bob Colacello
Thaddaeus Ropac, 37 Dover Street, W1S 4NJ, 2 June-29 July

Bob Colacello’s James Randall and Marisa Berenson, on their Wedding Day, Beverly Hills (1976) © Bob Colacello; Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery

It Just Happened is the fitting title for Bob Colacello’s first solo exhibition in London. The native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, managed to ingratiate himself with Andy Warhol’s Factory scene in the late 1970s.

Colacello made himself available for every party Warhol hosted at his studio on Broadway, as well as the now mythic nightclub Studio 54, held at the Broadway theatre on 254 West 54th Street. Colacello went to all of them with his Minox camera. Eighty of his surviving photographs, shot between 1976 and 1982, are currently on show at London’s Thaddaeus Ropac gallery. The exhibition also includes letters, magazines and memorabilia.

• The Art Newspaper is a media partner of London Gallery Weekend

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