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Inside the Unseen Photo Fair, Where Photography is 'Under Construction'

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The Unseen Photo Fair and Festival might be the best kept secret in the art-fair circuit.

Not that Unseen is unknown, but the Amsterdam-based photo fair is for its third year unveiling a cache of new work to the art world that not only promises to be unusual and enlightening, but backs up its claims to promote groundbreaking new work by encouraging an open dialog around the purpose of photography, its evolution as a medium, and its place in the art market.

Launched by Foam, the Dutch photography museum and magazine, Unseen aims to close the gap between artists and audience, curator and collector, photography and contemporary art. “Unseen is about creating this platform for new photography and photography talent, but we also want to engage a broad public, not only by looking at photography, but by giving people a helping hand in really looking at photography in a different way,” said Sasha Stone, Managing Director of Unseen.

In one of three major exhibitions on display in Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (which will open during Unseen), ‘Under Construction,’ features work by artists that the Unseen consortium believes are breaking down barriers and rebuilding an art form that has undoubtedly survived more shaky transitions and drastic upheavals than most mediums combined.

“Ten years ago, the conversation of analog versus digital was a technical question. For theses artists, this discussion is gone. [It’s] no longer exciting, no longer a question. It’s far more from a conceptual point of view,” said Marcel Feil, Editor of Foam magazine and Deputy Director of Artistic Affairs for Foam Museum.

Unseen has embraced what is sees as a new generation of artists, who are questioning the very nature of photography itself, and see no reason why a photograph can’t be self-referential while drawing from classical Greek sculpture, 1980’s abstraction, performance art, and the internet, all within the same frame.

“They show an image that is always constructed. These aren’t image takers, they’re image makers,” Feil said, “and I think it relates, more or less, to a shattered reality. This is a generation post-Cold War, post 9/11, post NSA and Edward Snowden. So a lot of things that were certainties are far more complex and layered, and you can see those layers, those complexities in the way they build and create images.”

Add the art market and its never ending ups and downs, as well as the photographic dependence on technology and consumerism to those existing layers, and you’re diving head first into some of the most complicated socio-political questions on the table. But at Unseen, those questions, posed by young artists and ‘image makers,’ and discussed by curators, critics, and collectors, are building a bigger frame-of-reference for artists, and their audience, to experience art.

Unseen Photo Fair and Festival takes place in Amsterdam from Sept. 18 – Sept. 20

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

This is Tomorrow, 2013Matthew Porter—M + B Gallery
Composition 008, 2014 Kate Steciw—Neumeister Bar AmBerlin
Ancient Solstice, 2014Sara VanDerBeek—Metro Pictures/The Approach
Heads, 2010Matt Lipps—Jessica Silverman Gallery
cfaal 379, 2013Jessica Eaton—M + B Gallery
Silhouette, 2010Daniel Gordon
Standing OfferLucas Blalock—Ramiken Crucible

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