50 years of taking photography seriously


LONDON – In 1968, Sue Davis was working as a secretary at the Institute of Contemporary Art in the British capital when a colleague became ill, and she left herself to finish a photography show they were working on. Were were

The exhibition, held the following year and focused on images of women, was a hit. Visitors lined up to enter the block, and Davis asked the institute’s founders if they would consider showing more photography. That said, the response was not what she wanted: They had only started the last show, he told her, because the photos were given to her for free.

This made Davis lose his temper, he later told The British Journal of Photography. So she made a decision: If museums didn’t want to do photography in their locations, she would start her own.

Three years later, in January 1971, Davis opened gallery of photography In a former tearoom in London’s West End. It was the city’s first exhibition space dedicated to photography; Its purpose, Davis wrote in his original proposal, was “for photography to be recognized as an art in itself.”

Fifty years later, the Photographers Gallery has succeeded – now housed in a grand, five-story building and celebrating its fifties with a series of exhibitions, called “Light Years: The Photographer’s Gallery at 50”, until February 1, 2022.

David Brittain, a former editor at Creative Camera magazine who curated the anniversary show, said the gallery had “staffed” it for photography to be seriously considered in the UK.

martin par, A photographer known for his humorous images of British life, echoed the sentiment. “Somewhere here you could feel part of a community,” he said of the gallery. “It almost became a place of pilgrimage.”

Oliver Chanarin, 2013 winner Gallery’s annual Deutsche Börse Prize, said the Photographers Gallery’s greatest success was “in a way, to make itself redundant,” noting that it has paved the way for many other dedicated exhibition spaces and museum shows around the UK. (another pioneer, raid, opened in York in 1972.)

Davis, who died in 2020, is widely praised for his leading role, but the project could easily have ended in disaster. “Sue had to mortgage her house and went without pay for 18 months,” Brett Rogers, the gallery’s director since 2005, said in a telephone interview. (In 1973, Davis told the New York Times, “We are suffering from a chronic lack of money.”)

But the exhibitions he organized soon found visitors willing to pay a small entrance fee.

The gallery’s initial focus was on reportage, showcasing socially conscious photographs shot for newspapers and magazines. among them were Striking Images of the Residents of the “Black House”,” a London hostel for young black people, taken over by Colin Jones and featured in a 1977 show.

In the 1980s, the gallery showcased work by Black photographers, including Group D-Max, as well as more photography by women. In the 90s and onwards, thematic exhibitions explored issues such as Role of photography in computer age and its use in surveillance. There have also been shows that featured star actors such as Catherine Opie, taryn simon And vim vendor.

The gallery’s diversity sometimes proves too much for traditionalists. In 1978, it hosted a show called “Fragment” of photo collages by John Steijker. The artist recalled in a recent telephone interview that his cut-and-paste approach had fallen badly. “I remember the president of the patrons writing a several-page diatribe against me in the visitor’s book, indicating very strongly that Sue would lose her funding if she continued to promote this nonsense,” he said.

Stazker did not exhibit at the Photographers’ Gallery again until 2012, when he Deutsche Börse Prize Won. “The lawsuit felt the same way as I did,” Stazker said.

In the 1980s, the gallery received complaints of a different kind from a youth culture magazine, The Face, for its show of photographs. According to Brittain, some photographers felt that the images glorified consumerism, undermining the true mission of photography: to expose social evils. “It showed the fault lines emerging between generations,” he said.

Sometimes, the disputes were more serious in nature. In 2010, the gallery held An Exhibition by Sally Mannu, an American photographer who shoots nude pictures of his kids, and who has been charged with creating child pornography. After hearing about the show, London Police investigated but decided the photos were not pornographic. “We defend it as art, and we always will,” said Rogers, the gallery’s directory.

Two years later, the Photographers Gallery moved out of its original premises near Leicester Square. With two exhibition spaces on either side of the West End theatre, only accessible to each other via the street, the original setup was awkward, Rogers said: When it rained, visitors were trapped, he noted, and only one There were restrooms in the empty space.

The current house of the gallery, In a redeveloped warehouse near Oxford Street, will become the anchor next year for a local council initiative called Soho Photography Quarter, intends to rebrand and develop the surrounding area.

So what is the role for the gallery today, when photography is so accepted and admired that part of London as an art form will be renamed?

Chanarin, the 2013 award winner, said the gallery was “needed more than ever.” He said photography has become a “more complex and layered medium” thanks to smartphones and social media. Photos are what we see now and the choices we make as much as we see them, he said, adding that apps like Instagram log every image a user likes. He said that places like Photographers Gallery are needed to understand the changing context of photography.

Rogers agreed that the gallery’s role was important at a time when “everybody thinks they’re a photographer.” The challenge for the institution, he said, is, “Well, yes, but what is the kind of memorable picture that lasts for centuries?”

Despite all the changes, it seemed like Sue Davis’ mission when she started the gallery 50 years ago: to bring exciting photography to the public and keep them coming back for more.



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