The world’s first photographic experiments and earliest cameras; works by pioneering female photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron, Agnes Warburg, Madame Yevonde and Cindy Sherman; pictures by 20th-century greats Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn, and contemporary works by Martin Parr, Sian Bonnell, Mary McCartney, Peter Funch, Cornelia Parker and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
This is just some of what to expect at the V&A’s impressive new Photography Centre, which spans four new galleries, more than doubling the museum’s space dedicated to photography.
Visitors will enter the new centre through a spectacular installation of over 150 cameras spanning 160 years, with, an interactive camera handling station offering the chance to understand of how photographers view the world through their equipment. Other new spaces include the Modern Media Gallery, with a frequently changing selection of new acquisitions, a ‘Light Wall’ for displaying screen-based photography, and a ‘Dark Tent’ multimedia projection and lecture space, inspired by 19th-century photographers’ travelling darkrooms.
The centre opens with major display, Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital. Drawn from the V&A’s collection of over 800,000 photographs, the exhibition explores photography as a way of ‘collecting the world’, from the medium’s invention in the 19th century to the present day.
To mark the opening, the V&A has also commissioned two internationally-renowned artists to produce major new works.
German photographer Thomas Ruff has created a series inspired by Linnaeus Tripe’s 1850s paper negatives of India and Burma, held in the V&A’s collection. Digitally reinterpreting these photographs, Ruff gives Tripe’s important and haunting images a new context, emphasising their hidden details and resurrecting them with spectacular new life.
Alongside this, American artist Penelope Umbrico has created 171 Clouds from the V&A Online Collection, 1630-1885. Umbrico works mostly with images she finds on the internet, presenting them in ways that reveal the fluidity of digital photography. For this project, she sifted through the V&A paintings collection online and extracted details of clouds, exploring the transition from fleeting clouds to material paint, and then from digital code to physical screen.
The opening of the V&A Photography Centre kick-starts a month-long Photography Spotlight at the museum. Highlights include talks by Mary McCartney, Rankin and Chris Levine, and the premiere of the collaborative performance piece Last Evenings by artist Garry Fabian Miller and musician and composer Oliver Coates.
A second phase of the Photography Centre, planned for 2022, will expand it even further, with ambitions to include a teaching and research space, a browsing library and a studio and darkroom for photographers’ residencies. For more information visit vam.ac.uk.