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V&A Photography Centre opens


Designed by David Kohn Architects, phase one of the V&A Photography Centre more than doubles the photography space at the V&A, spanning four new galleries. It opens with the major display Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital.


The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery, Room 100, Photography Centre. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Drawn from the V&A’s collection of over 800,000 photographs, Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital showcases some of the most exciting contemporary photography being created today. It also shows seminal prints by pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron and Roger Fenton, alongside negatives, camera equipment, photographic publications and original documents to tell a broader story about the history of international photography. In The Modern Media Gallery (formerly Gallery 99), a frequently changing selection of new acquisitions, a ‘Light Wall’ for displaying screen-based photography, and a ‘Dark Tent’ projection area complete the space.

The transfer of the historic Royal Photographic Society collection in 2017 provided the catalyst for this dramatic re-imagining of photography at the museum. The new centre features the world’s first photographic experiments and earliest cameras. Works by pioneering female photographers include work by Julia Margaret Cameron, Agnes Warburg, Madame Yevonde and Cindy Sherman. Plus pictures by 20th-century greats Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn. Contemporary works included are by Martin Parr, Sian Bonnell, Mary McCartney, Peter Funch, Cornelia Parker and Hiroshi Sugimoto.


Kodak, No. 2A Beau Brownie (blue), 1930-33, Camera © The RPS Collection at the V&A.

Visitors enter the new Photography Centre through a spectacular installation of over 150 cameras spanning 160 years. Nearby, an interactive camera handling station offers visitors an understanding of how photographers view the world through their equipment. Inside the gallery, sections look at a series of collections and collectors. This includes an important group of William Henry Fox Talbot’s cameras and prints; 1850s fine art photographs collected by Chauncey Hare Townshend, friend of Charles Dickens; Pictorialist photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn’s collection of photographs by his predecessors and contemporaries; and a selection of some of the most significant photojournalism of the 20th century collected by Magnum Photos’ UK agents, John and Judith Hillelson. A stereoscope viewer gives an immersive 3-D experience of Crystal Palace alongside some of the first photos ever taken of Japan.

The Photography Centre also features the Dark Tent, a flexible multimedia projection and lecture space inspired by 19th-century photographers’ travelling darkrooms. Here, specially commissioned films revealing early photographic processes, including the daguerreotype, calotype and wet collodion process, are screened, along with a slideshow of rarely-seen magic lantern slides revealing the first attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1921 and 1922, among other photographic projections.


Photography Centre, Room 101. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To mark the opening, the V&A has commissioned two internationally-renowned artists to produce major new works. German photographer Thomas Ruff, known for taking a critical and conceptual approach to photography, has created a monumental series inspired by Linnaeus Tripe’s 1850s paper negatives of India and Burma, held in the V&A’s collection. Digitally reinterpreting photographs made over 160 years ago, Ruff gives Tripe’s important and haunting images a new context, emphasising their hidden details and resurrecting them with spectacular new life.

Alongside Thomas Ruff’s new series, American artist Penelope Umbrico has created 171 Clouds from the V&A Online Collection, 1630 - 1885, 2018, the first work to feature on the Light Wall. Umbrico works mostly with images she finds on the internet, presenting them in ways that reveal the fluidity of digital photography. For this video, she sifted through the V&A paintings collection online and extracted details of clouds. The work explores the transition from fleeting clouds to material paint, and then from digital code to physical screen.

The V&A Photography Centre can be found on Level 3, The Modern Media Gallery – Room 99, The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery – Room 100, and Rooms 101 & 108.

Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital

V&A Photography Centre, London

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