Photo Independent Marks its Third Year With Salute to Mobile Photography

Photo Independent - H 2016
Courtesy of Photo Independent

The non-comformist photo fair seeks to cash in where rival Paris Photo LA could not — Los Angeles' "absence of a mature market."

Back for its third year, Photo Independent takes over Raleigh Studios today through Sunday, offering a chance to see works you won’t find in any gallery. Over 100 independent artists represent themselves in this sprawling exhibit and confab offering panel discussions as well as Photobook Independent, a showcase on the growing market for photo books. Boldly going where few have gone before, the fair offers an unusual exhibit devoted to cellphone photography exploring the new technology's impact, good and bad, on the medium.

Previous years featured exhibits by guitarist Andy Summers and Scott Caan (Hawaii Five-O), and averaged about 5,000 fans along with deep-pocketed collectors like Billy Idol. Photo Independent founder Chris Davies of Fabrik Media expects about the same number this year but is cautiously optimistic there will be even more. For the first time ever, the fair won’t have to split its audience with Paris Photo L.A., which usually takes place right across the street at Paramount Studios. The latter recently announced they were cancelling their 2016 event and future shows due to “the absence of a mature market” in Los Angeles.

“The way Paris Photo framed it was incorrect and pretty much a lie,” Davies explains about the rival show’s difficulty finding a foothold. “The real reason is they couldn’t get enough exhibitors. I spoke to several galleries in Arizona and New York, and they tell me the reason they’re not coming is because they charge so much money for their booths. That’s the real reason.”

Once chosen by a six-person selection committee, artists at Photo Independent pay a nominal fee of $975 to $3,250, depending on space, to exhibit at the annual three-day event. It’s an appealing price for photographers from the world of fashion and journalism, as well as gifted amateurs, affording them the chance to bypass galleries and exhibit as fine artists. That’s not to imply the artists behind The Mobile Photography show are somehow inferior. Where you might expect a space dedicated to selfies, instead you’ll find disposable, in-the-moment captures similar in spirit to the work of mid-century icons like Robert Frank as well as the early Polaroids of Robert Mapplethorpe.

“There are some seasoned photographers in the world that are taking mobile photography seriously,” Davies says of the exhibit as well as the accompanying discussion on Saturday, Everyone’s A Photographer: the Cell Phone Camera — Revolution or De-Evolution? “Just like in the old days, Polaroids was a fun thing to do. Now a Mapplethorpe Polaroid costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. I see that also with the mobile photography market. Eventually it will be taken seriously.”

That covers the “revolution” part of it, but what of the “de-evolution” part? The proliferation of images has had a profound impact, changing the way we capture and consume photography. If an oil painting by one of the old masters is considered a sumptuous feast, a photo is a Happy Meal in both the way it's priced and consumed at a swipe. One solution is to change our definition. “It’s not a photo unless it’s printed,” is a common saying of Magnum photographer Constantine Manos who, along with fellow Magnum shooter Bruce Gilden, conducted workshops earlier this month.

Programs during the fair include a conversation with gallerist Robert Berman titled Calm Cool & Collected, On Collecting & Getting Collected and a talk with photographer Jim McHugh called L.A. Street Artists & Urban Landscapes. The event concludes Sunday with a look at Alec Byrne’s photos of the London rock scene in the '60s and '70s featuring images of such icons as Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix.

With the exit of Paris Photo L.A., Davies expects this year to be the fair’s most successful yet. And as for “the absence of a mature market,” don’t expect Photo Independent to follow its rival's example anytime soon. “Los Angeles is an image city," he says. "It’s always been focused on the image and film and photography. It’s just something that has been a constant and always will be.”