It has been 45 years since the unofficial AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) convened at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. AIPAD became official the following year in 1979 and was under way at Daniel Wolff Gallery in New York City. The rest was history, until recently where you can now consider it to be her-story.
There have been many different locations and iterations since then. 1994 marks an important year for the association, AIPAD officially changed the name to “The Photography Show” and presented a special exhibition of Women In Photography. 2006 they moved to their dream space at The Park Avenue Armory, then at Pier 94. Now, post COVID AIPAD has been steady at Center 415.
This year at The Photography Show there were noticeable changes from previous years. It was a much smaller, intimate fair, with not as many participating galleries, especially from Europe and beyond. This made it easier to peruse and not feel overwhelmed. Also, very slowly, more galleries are giving visibility to the marginalized and the unseen. There is a genuine desire to give these artists a platform. I noticed more inclusion of trans, non-binary, LGBTQ, & BIPOC this year. The biggest difference was much more attention being paid to women artists on the walls. Some women I had never heard of.
Did galleries take their cue from the masterfully curated exhibition at the Met, “The New Woman Behind the Camera” from 2021? The influx of women included the always sublime Cig Harvey who had a dedicated booth at Robert Mann, Marcia Resnick & Elaine Mayes’ stark black and white portraits at Deborah Bell Gallery, lovely botanical Cyanotypes dating back from 1905/1915 by Bertha Jaques at Hans Kraus, AnneMarie Heinrich’s double exposure prints from the 1930’s – 1950’s at Nailya Alexander and a stunning new limited-edition portfolio in honor of the tenth anniversary of Manjari Sharma’s nine deities shown by Assembly.
However, one particular photographer stood out, Melissa Shook. Shook’s dreamy self-portraits from 1972/1973 during her time in Wellfleet, Massachusetts were being presented for the first time by Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery. A small series of six square framed photographs of Shook, some nude, some partially clothed caught my eye. The small works forced me to get close and look into the spaces which she used to document herself. They are mysterious, wistful and bewildering. I had never heard of her or seen her work before however, they felt vaguely familiar. They are reminiscent of Francesca Woodman, but were made quite a few years prior to Woodman’s self-portraits.
Perhaps Woodman was informed of Shook’s work? Who knows but one can’t deny the inspiration. In the midst of the works were large close-up portraits by Japanese photographer Ken Ohara. While they were quite arresting, I was secretly wishing the whole booth highlighted Shook. It’s not like women were dominating this medium back then, so it was a fabulous discovery.
The next day I went back to AIPAD to do some deep diving and I wondered if there were more photographs I hadn’t seen. The gallery indeed had more of her work. Out came a box of black and white loose prints; each image more intense than the last. These freshly uncovered self-portraits were emotional to look at, their newness gave me the chills. I was falling in love again. I felt the same way when Vivian Maier’s treasure trove of street photographs and self-portraits first hit the market. Art fairs are notorious for being safe, showing the same works over each year because they know the work will sell and there is a market, so this was welcomed. It says a lot about the gallery who takes risks to show work that no one has seen, collected or heard of before.
Also shown in the booth were Shook’s photographs of her daughter, Krissy who she photographed through her life until she was eighteen as well as moody black and white pinhole works placed alongside text taken before her death in 2020. But it was the self-portraits which told me more about Melissa Shook’s story than anything else in the booth. It was her vulnerability in front of the camera which had me going back. I highly recommend looking her up or heading to Miyako Yoshinaga in Midtown.
Other women highlighted at AIPAD: Deborah Turbeville by The Muus Collection, Shadi Ghadirian’s series Ctrl Alt Del at Robert Klein Gallery, Gertrudis de Moses at Toluca Fine Art, Mary Ellen Bartley at Yancey Richardson, and Sarah Sense at Bruce Silverstein.
Savannah Spirit is a Brooklyn based photographer and curator. Co-founder of Don’t Delete Art, a campaign, gallery and resource center fighting against online censorship or artists.