Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, Founders, Photo London

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Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, Founders, Photo London

Photo London has been described by The Guardian as ‘The UK photography event of the year’ . Following a hugely successful seventh edition in May, the Fair will return to London at Somerset House between 11-14 May 2023.

Each year, starting in 2015, it has brought the entire world of photography to London, from historic images to the photographers continuing to push the form into new shapes and directions. At Photo London 2022 you’ll find leading photography dealers and galleries, plus a Discovery section where you’ll find emerging talent. There’s a full Public Programme offering talks, exhibitions, and awards.

Photo London was founded by husband-and-wife team Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad and is produced by their cultural consultancy Candlestar, which is also responsible for the Condé Nast College of Fashion and global photography prize Prix Pictet.

Both Michael and Fariba are world-renowned authorities on photography and arts production, and started their careers as arts educators. We took a little of their time to ask them about Photo London and their expectations for the Fair .

How did you both find your way into the art world?

It was a long and winding road. From opening a gallery in the midst of the Iranian revolution (Fariba) to working on projects at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich (Michael). Everything crystallised for us both during ten years at the University of the Arts where amongst other things Fariba funded the first online fashion magazine and ran a pioneering IT Research and Development Unit and Michael secured the Millbank site for Chelsea College of Art and ran the groundbreaking Signatures of the Invisible project in collaboration with CERN.

Was photography always a key area of interest?

Yes. Some of the earliest shows we worked on were photography shows.

Do you mess around with cameras yourselves?

Not in any convincing ways.

What do you look for in a good photograph?

The ability to combine artistic vision with a strong narrative line.

What inspired you to move from art education to production?

We both felt that we had gone as far as we could in art education and we wanted a fresh set of challenges. And, at the same time, we sensed that art education had lost some of the anarchic edge that was the initial attraction. The thrill (and the attendant risk) of production was immensely attractive.

What did you set out to achieve with Photo London?

To create the world’s best photography fair. Maybe not the biggest but certainly the best.

What are the logistics of putting on something like this at Somerset House?

Fiendishly difficult. Essentially, we are organising five art fairs at once in a place that swallows signage. But, for all that, the results are worth the effort and, after all, we said we enjoyed the thrill of production.

Have you always got the response you wanted in London?

When we started, some of people doubted that there was much of an audience or appetite for photography in London. Yet we were convinced that there was a strong emerging photography scene that was about to break through. We witnessed that with our first edition and, ever since, we have been blown away by the positivity of the London audience and by the reactions of our many international visitors.

Whose work should we look out for at Somerset House this year?

Always start with the Discovery section – that’s where you’ll find the stars of tomorrow.