DYCP Diaries #1 - Unseen Photography Festival, Amsterdam

In September 2023 I travelled to Amsterdam for a research trip to see the Unseen photography festival as part of my DYCP grant. This was my first time attending an international photography festival, having only ever been to a handful in the UK, so I was so excited to see what the large-scale event would bring! I am hugely grateful for my Arts Council funding for allowing me to travel to Amsterdam to see this wonderful photography festival. It was a huge reminder how grants like DYCP can enable amazing opportunities for artists and creatives, making often out of reach activities turn into reality.

After my last attempt at going to an international photography festival ended in a PTSD diagnosis, (Paris Photo 2015, you can do the Googling) I was somewhat surprised that every single thing was going right for me? I drove to the airport without any traffic, smashed a parallel park, went through airport security without having my bag searched, successfully sprayed myself with perfume in duty free without getting hassled to buy anything, and my budget airline flight was on time, winner! I arrived at my hotel and had some free time to do some research into the exhibitors ahead of visiting Unseen the following day.

Unseen Fair

Unseen is a large-scale photography fair dedicated to the latest developments in contemporary photography. Having never been before I wasn’t quite sure what the set up would be like; the Fair part of Unseen showcased photographers, galleries and initiatives, which comprised of 65 exhibitors, there was A LOT to see! Each exhibiting artist only had a small amount of space allocated, but I was impressed with the diverse display techniques and dynamic use of space.

Let’s not forget, I wasn’t there to simply look at the work, my DYCP is about curatorial techniques, display approaches and critical thinking as a Curator, so I was ready to research and explore. Most importantly though, I was there to take the experience all in and be thankful I am fortunate to be able to see this photography festival in person, after years of seeing them secondhand through a screen.

Work aside, a lot of the exhibitions were forward-thinking in terms of display. From backlit lightboxes, to framed prints alongside vinyl wrapped walls, to unframed prints, to perspex boxes, to nontraditional gallery wall approaches. Unseen had it all, and it was the perfect place to go to research contemporary photographic display techniques and certainly gave me food for thought.

There was a number of exhibitions that stood out for me, the first being the work of Dirk Hardy who seemed to be the star of the show featuring on many Instagram stories and had a huge crowd gathering around the work. Vivarium is a series of constructed dioramas where characters are posed in mundane job roles and displayed with unique frames on a lightbox. The images make the audience feel as though they are in a real life encounter, whether it’s buying a cinema ticket, placing a sports bet or having an encounter with a security guard. Each set up has a deeper meaning, but it is largely up to the viewer to depict the scenarios. 

Other stand out photographer’s who’s work I enjoyed include: Carlie Consemulder, Eva Szombat, Aneta Bartos and Melissa Schriek. I felt that some of the work on display at Unseen was following a motto of “how unique can I make the display”, but none of these artists did that. I like an understated hidden gem in an exihibtion and I found that in the work of Consemulder, Szombat, Bartos and Schriek, their subjects are wildly different, yet their display approach was traditional but compelling. The use of wall paper, placards, the mix of framed and unframed prints, all sparked inspiration.


I visited Unbound last, Unbound is the curated part of Unseen and it was hidden away in a warehouse type building. Unsure of what to expect, I was greeted by a dark room hosting large-scale digital exhibitions that had a more art gallery feel to it but showed strong examples of how progressive photography can be in the growing digital age. It wasn’t until the end, when it became apparent that this part of the festival was hosting the Meijburg Art Commission nominees, whose work has been selected on the theme of ‘environment’. I was really drawn to the work of Lonneke van der Palen and Mathieu Asselin.

Book Market

As part of Unseen they host an overwhelmingly huge photobook fair, which is a must see for any photobook fan. Publishers from around the world gathered in a market style way to showcase hundreds of aesthetically pleasing books. I was simply window shopping this part of Unseen, as many didn’t include a price tag and as I had travelled light, I didn’t have space in my rucksack to bring anything back!

Overall I had an unforgettable trip to Unseen, sparking lots of inspiration and hope for the future of contemporary photography. I’m really glad it took place right at the start of my DYCP activity plan, so I can put this knowledge forward into future projects.

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