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Discovering London with Michael Benson, co-founder, Photo London

Discovering London with Michael Benson, co-founder, Photo London

Photo London was founded in 2015, swiftly drawing photographers, curators, dealers and the public together to celebrate the medium. The fourth edition of the fair features 108 exhibiting galleries from 18 countries, selected by a curatorial committee led by Philippe Garner, who oversaw the first photography auction in the UK at Sotheby’s, in 1971.

This year, the Discovery section has expanded to include 22 galleries, and the Talks program features speakers including Joel Meyerowitz, Bruce Gilden, An-My Lê, Thomas Struth and Vera Lutter. Edward Burtynsky—whose imagery explores how humans have profoundly influenced global landscapes, notably through his latest five-year project “Anthropocene”—has been selected as the 2018 Master of Photography. Headquartered at Somerset House, on the south side of the Strand, Photo London is on view May 17-20.

MICHAEL BENSON, the founding director of the fair alongside Fariba Farshad, has had extensive career crossover between the realms of education and the arts, notably developing the London Institute Gallery’s exhibition program. He is the Director of Prix Pictet (the international photography prize founded in 2008), a board member for the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. The London native discussed everything from his favorite barber to the best Chilean seafood to try while in town.

How long have you been a Londoner?

All my life.

What are your “can’t leave without seeing this” recommendations for the city?

The Thames—many of the City’s best secrets are hidden in plain sight along the banks of its great river. The parks are London’s green lungs. And of course, the city’s architectural and cultural splendors, from Westminster and St. Paul’s to the Tate Modern and even the Shard.

What is the most overrated thing people advise visitors to check out?

Almost all of the usual suspects especially Madame Tussauds and Piccadilly Circus.

What restaurants and/or cafes would you recommend, and what makes them unique?

Two of the city’s best restaurants—Spring and Bryn Williams—are at Somerset House: fine, imaginative cooking in a fabulous location. The Delaunay is theatre land’s Grand European-style brasserie and J Sheekey is one of the best fish restaurants in town. Further afield Chicama (Chilean seafood) and Medlar (Modern French), both in the Kings Road, are brilliantly idiosyncratic places to eat.  

What would you do if you had a free morning or afternoon in London?

Morning: a visit to one of the city’s many excellent Turkish barbers, followed by a stroll along the river and a walk in one of the great parks. Then books shopping in Tottenham Court Road or lunch in one of the lesser-known riverside pubs, such as the Dove at Hammersmith. 

Afternoon: a museum or gallery show (almost certainly photography) or a matinee at Regents Park Open Air Theatre in summer or at Sadler’s Wells. 

And, every other Saturday: Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge.

Where would you head for the best shopping, and what would you buy?

Covent Garden for shoes at Oliver Sweeney, Borough Market for food and Kings Road in Chelsea for (almost) everything else.

 Where would you recommend people stay when they visit?

Our partner hotel the Rosewood is one of London’s finest. 

What are the best venues to check out photography shows in the city?

Many of London’s major museums now stage brilliant photography shows, as do the Photographers Gallery and the well-known specialist and Contemporary galleries.

What are the best places to buy art?

London has an amazing emerging gallery scene, where the many of tomorrow’s stars can be found. 

What are the ideal spots to see live music?

Roundhouse, Jazz Café, O2 arena, Brixton Academy—but also check out Daylight Music at Islington’s Union Chapel. For great outdoor gigs in the summer, Somerset House’s summer season is hard to beat.

What are your favorite bars to relax in after spending the day at the fair?

At the Radio Bar at ME Hotel just across the road: you can look down on the Fair and out across the Thames to the rest of London.

What are you most looking forward to about this newest edition of Photo London?

The 2018 edition is set to be the biggest and we look forward to showcasing the very best of the past, present and future of photography. Our Master of Photography Edward Burtynsky, one of the great image makers of our times, leads a strong exhibition program that includes exhibitions of work by Darren Almond, the legacy of Henry Fox Talbot (featuring rare original works alongside those of Contemporary masters), and special installations by Daido Moriyama and acclaimed set designer Es Devlin.

— Photo London runs May 17-20 at Somerset House, London

For details, visit

Founder: Louise Blouin