It is so good to have the Photographers’ Gallery back in operation in central London again after its 18-month makeover. The architects, O’Donnell + Tuomey, have done a great job squeezing in the space and facilities needed for world-class exhibitions, though I was reassured by Brett Rogers’ opening address, that the Gallery is strongly linked to Soho, so we can expect that local and emerging photographers won’t be forgotten.
This is good news since it was one of their founding principles and has been a strong thread in their activities until the Gallery closed for building work. It’s the main reason I have been and remain a member – to fill the gap between small commercial galleries and the large museums. I hope they will also put on some historical shows too, which they have been reluctant to do in the past (understandably, given the limited space and strong contemporary ethos).
The Photographers’s Gallery has its critics of course, and constructive criticism should always be listened to. One of the criticisms levelled at the Gallery in the past was its lack of relevance, but the Gallery now has a Digital Curator and The Wall – a space for presenting electronic exhibitions – that will change more frequently than the other shows. This is in acknowledgement of the mode of consumption shifting, the screen becoming more significant than the printed page, at least in numbers of images though not necessarily in quality!
We also have to acknowledge the change that technology is producing by allowing sound and video to be accessible to creative photographers. I’m sure this will feature too.
The Gallery has always had an educational strand to its activities, and it seems like this is set to get stronger, with an education facility in the centre, both literally (it’s half way up the building) and strategically. This is good to hear. In the basement is the excellent bookshop, which is still well-stocked, and print sales. They represent a good selection of photographers, several of them amongst my favourites (if only I had the money)!
The cafe is now on the ground floor and clearly visible through the large plate windows. Although this design will probably boost trade I have a feeling that the space provided will prove too small. It seems significantly smaller than the old Great Newport Street cafe, which could get very crowded at times. I hope my fears are unfounded as I used to look forward to lunch or some of Billy’s cake. We’ll see. I will also miss Billy, though I gather it was his own choice not to return to the refurbished facility. They will be serving Lavazza coffee – a safe rather than exceptional choice – ah well. In the end though, it is a photographic gallery, and there are plenty of cafes in the area to choose from.
Leaving my comments on Edward Burtynsky’s Oil exhibition until last isn’t meant as a slight, after all, I did review his larger exhibition in St Johns, Nova Scotia, in 2010. It is good to see some additions to that show in the form of aerial photos of the Gulf of Mexico spill. This is an exhibition well worth seeing if you’re in London, or even make a special trip and combine it with a few of the other galleries in the area and some shopping in Oxford Street!