Hidden behind the bustling crowds of Oxford Street, is a peaceful gallery that boasts beautiful and thought-provoking installations. The Photographers’ Gallery was founded in 1971 by Sue Davies, and was the UK’s first public gallery dedicated to photography. The work of the gallery helped to champion photography’s place in the world of mainstream art. The gallery was so influential that Sue Davies was awarded an OBE in 1991. 50 years on from its opening, the gallery is still displaying influential and important photographic pieces.
Currently the gallery is displaying two temporary exhibitions. The top two floors display the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021 nominees. This features four international photographers who have produced outstanding bodies of work, this year’s nominees include: Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena, Cao Fei, and Zineb Sedira (pictured above by author). All of the works are poignant pieces that relate to current challenges facing our world today. Sedira’s instillation is an immersive project that tackles themes of identity, culture, gender, and the environment. She presents a recreation of her living room, creating an archive of cross-generational and cross-cultural photographs and memorabilia, creating a moving and intimate experience.
Basu’s room displays photos and videos to uncover the violent conflict between the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army and the Indian State. The combination of dark landscapes, portraits, and violent scenes create an impactful statement about a conflict which has been largely unreported. Cartagena’s room is based on his book A Small Guide to Homeownership, which explores urban and social landscapes, warning of the issues of gentrification in Mexico. The final nominee, Fei, uses photography and videography to imagine a dystopian, computerised world where people can be uploaded to have ‘digital souls’. All of these pieces take you to a new realm of ideas and emotions - they offer visitors a respite from the busy streets of central London, with a place to reflect on different cultures and issues facing today’s societies.
The second floor is currently dedicated to a temporary exhibition “The Picture Library”, which uses the archives of The Guardian newspaper to explore the importance of photography in the media. The first room of the exhibition tells the history of print photographs in The Guardian along with a video introducing the exhibition. When entering the second room we find two rows of photos snaking around the entire room. In this room famous events are set alongside the unfamiliar photos. By tracing the photos around the room, we are reminded of clips of recent history, from the election of Tony Blair, to coverage of children born with thalidomide, to two players celebrating a goal during a football match. As some of the photos in the exhibition were archived during the early 20th Century, the exhibition has included updated captions, helping to explain the events and replacing outdated language. This exhibition offers viewers a glimpse into the past, by recalling significant news reports and using poignant photos to help visitors engage with the past and understand the impact of photography in journalism.
The Photographers’ Gallery is the perfect place to pause, and consider the many different topics that photography brings us. Whether current affairs or personal reminiscence, The Photographers’ Gallery is a space to slow down and engage with your thoughts and emotions. If you ever need an escape from the hectic life that exists on Oxford Street, take a stroll through The Photographers’ Gallery, and enjoy the peace that can be found here.
The Photographers’ Gallery is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10.00-18.00, and Sunday, 11.00-18.00. Admission is £5, or £2.50 with concessions. It is located on 16-18 Ramillies Street, London, W1F 7LW.
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Matilda Davis (she/her) is currently completing her master’s degree in Museum Studies. She has volunteered in many archives and museums, most recently at Whitehall Historic House where she helped to curate a temporary exhibition. Her ambition is to work in exhibition curation, and is excited to embark on work in the heritage sector.
Follow Matilda on Twitter: @MatildaWDavis