As the Photographers’ Gallery in London turns 50, we take a look at five of its landmark exhibitions

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“Everyone pressured her to call it the Photography Gallery,” says Brett Rogers, director of the Photographers’ Gallery in London. “But she said no, it’s a place for photographers, we want them to feel comfortable here.” The “she” in question was Sue Davies, founder and first director of the Photographers’ Gallery, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The Photographers’ Gallery was the UK’s first public institution dedicated to photography. Prior to her training, Davies had worked at the Institute of Contemporary Art where she met several photographers who, like her, felt that London needed a space dedicated to the medium. One of its main objectives was to “promote recognition of photography as an art form in its own right”. Davies supported the business and raised funds, including re-mortgaging his own home, before finding space on Great Newport Street, near Covent Garden. And on January 14, 1971, the Photographers’ Gallery was born.

“[Davies] wanted to create a space for photographers who aspired to be artists and also for photographers who were photojournalists and who were trying to find their way in industry, in writing and in advertising, ”Rogers said. “It was quite surprising. She wanted both to recognize it as an art form but also to recognize the very important roles played by applied photography: magazines, print media, medicine, NASA photography, postcards.

The Photographers’ Gallery moved to its new home just off Oxford Street in London in 2012

In the first year alone, the new gallery hosted 19 exhibitions. These included photojournalism shows; landscapes; Polaroids by Andy Warhol; Zoe Dominic’s photos of ballet dancers; a Jacques Henri Lartigue survey; sepia prints from London in the 1870s; and a group exhibition of erotic photography. “All I’m saying is his point of view was very eclectic and Catholic and that was a good thing,” says Rogers. “[Davies] embraced all the breadth, and we do it today.

Davies was director of the gallery for two decades, before resigning in 1991. She was followed by Sue Grayson Ford, Paul Wombell and in 2005, Rogers took over. The gallery moved to its new space in central London, just off Oxford Street, in 2012. For the past eight years, Rogers has planned the Soho Photography Quarter, an outdoor pedestrian area around the gallery “where you can view photographs 24/7 for free. fresh. ”The area underwent a soft launch in September, with final completion and official opening slated for February 2022.“ It will be safe and beautifully lit, welcoming and odorless, ”Rogers said, referring to what was often a urine-scented alley.

Rogers took the time to plan the institution’s future to look back on its past and select five exhibitions that defined the Photographers’ Gallery.

Five key exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery

The private view for The photographer concerned, the first exhibition at The Photographers Gallery

The photographer concerned (January 13-February 13, 1971)

With: Werner Bischof, Robert Capa, Leonard Freed, André Kertész, David Seymour, Dan Weiner

The first exhibition at the newly formed gallery was unplanned. “Although Sue [Davies] wanted to do a show about civil rights photography, it happened in his lap at the right time when we had to open, ”says Rogers. The exhibition was organized by the International Fund for Concerned Photography of New York, founded by Cornell Capa, and which subsequently gave birth to the International Center of Photography. “It was the heyday of Magnum and photo agencies, so [the show]reflected the importance of photojournalism, ”says Rogers. Highlights include the works of Robert Capa – “there were some unusual ones of him” – and the “beautiful images of children during the Polish war” by David Seymour.

The exhibit also experimented with new curatorial ideas, “transferring what had always been seen in print and magazines, onto the gallery wall,” says Rogers. “It had never really been done in the UK. We were very successful in making big explosions [with]small framed pictures. Rogers adds that the exhibition “set the tone” for the Photographers’ Gallery and has led to numerous photojournalism and reportage exhibitions over the decades, including work by, among others, Margaret Bourke-White, Elliott Erwitt , Eugene Smith, Bruce Davidson, Werner Bischof and Sebastião Salgado. “All the big names,” Rogers adds.

Installation view of Five years with the face Courtesy of the Photographers Gallery Archives

5 years with the face (April 18-May 17, 1985)

With: Anton Corbijn, Chalkie Davies, Jill Furmanovsky, Mike Laye, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jamie Morgan, Sheila Rock and Carol Starr

The now legendary magazine The face was at the height of his powers in the mid-1980s, spanning youth culture and fashion with his unique style. The exhibition included works by 37 photographers, including Anton Corbijn, Jill Furmanovsky and Robert Mapplethorpe. One of the key elements he explored was the importance of the stylist in fashion and commercial photography. “Fashion photography is very collaborative; it’s not like most other independent photographers, ”says Rogers. “They always work with stylists and art directors. [The exhibition] much investigated the role of Ray Petri, this amazing ’80s stylist who turned the whole way you took a fashion photo upside down.

Graphic designer Neville Brody, then artistic director of the magazine, designed the exhibit and its distinctive poster. Rogers adds that there is “a nice connection to our 50th anniversary”, as Brody recently reconnected with the gallery who offered to design the logo for his 50th anniversary, as he had “fond memories” of the exposure. The exhibition paved the way for subsequent exhibitions by trendy fashion photographers such as Juergen Teller and Corinne Day, Rogers says. “We have always prioritized [fashion exhibitions]because we know that young people love fashion. We’re right off Oxford Street, so why wouldn’t we? “

The poster of the Photovideo: Photography in the Computer Age exposure

Photovideo: Photography in the Computer Age (November 1-December 7, 1991)

With: Susan Boyce, Susan Hardy, Brian Harris, Graham Howard, Pedro Meyer, Clinton Osbourne, Esther Parada, Philip Benson & David Perret, Keith Piper, Simon Robertshaw and Kativa Sharma

“The gallery was full of video screens, electronic buzzes and datasets,” says Rogers. It was an exhibition that showed how photography went “from the darkroom to the computer screen – and how this change was already happening in the 90s”. The exhibit was curated by Rogers predecessor Paul Wombell and Steven Bode, who runs Film and Video Umbrella. “What they recognized was the early impact of new technologies on the image,” says Rogers. “It was influenced by Tiananmen Square and all of those images of the tanks and the blurry images and pixelation that came down through the video stills.”

In addition to examining the beginnings of the digital culture we take for granted today, he also looked at who created and stored images and the use of big data. He explicitly asked “what are the implications for society?” Rogers said. “They looked at mass surveillance, the role of the military in creating images and datasets, even in ’91. We think it was a premonitory exhibit because nobody was talking about it. .

Taryn Simon’s exhibition An American Index of the Hidden and the Unknown showing one of his works documenting a nuclear waste storage facility Courtesy of the Photographers Gallery Archives

Taryn Simon: an American index of the hidden and the unknown (September 12-November 11, 2007)

With: Taryn Simon

“We’ve always had a really big commitment to promoting women artists and someone who really set the bar high by interviewing the documentary. [photography]and really putting concept photography on the map is Taryn Simon. We were the first to show him [in the UK]Rogers said. The impact of the subjects discussed by the American photographer marked many of those who saw the show. “Doesn’t that stay with you?” She walked into a forensic lab, she documented a Palestinian woman having a hymen reconstruction, [she photographed]inside the CIA, [showed]the big internet cables coming from the sea. It was one of the most breathtaking exhibitions of all time. She has just struck a new chord with where photography could go.

Simon went on to organize major exhibitions around the world, branching out from photography with notable performance installations such as A trade of loss (2016). There was a real “conceptual richness” in the exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, which “set the bar back to zero,” says Rogers. And made “photographers think differently: what is photography capable of? What can he find out? “

Installation view of Feminist avant-garde of the 1970s © Kate Elliot

Feminist avant-garde of the 1970s: works from the Verbund collection (October 6, 2016 – January 15, 2017)

With: VALIE EXPORT, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Martha Rosler, among others

“This show had everyone from Cindy Sherman to Hannah Wilke to our lovely Alexis Hunter who passed away shortly after,” Rogers said. “As well as many unknown names.” The exhibition of 48 women photographers from the Verbund Collection in Vienna focused on work from the 1970s that dealt with political issues such as patriarchy and sexism. In addition to photography, the exhibition also includes collage works, films and videos. Rogers says that with such an exhibition, it was important to see the works in the exhibition rather than in the photo books. “It’s the visceral quality; their work is so hard. And some of them are sewn on and you can’t really see it in a book.

“For the young photographers who come to our gallery, they may have heard their name, but they had never seen their work,” says Rogers. “[It was] truly radical, provocative political work. And I really think it shook them; it had a big impact.


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