CollectionsV&A To Open New Photography Centre

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Opening on 12 October, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new Photography Centre is set to display the world’s first photographic experiments, pictures by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, acquisitions by Linda McCartney and commissioned works by Thomas Ruff.

The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design has collected photographs since it was founded in 1852. Following the transfer of the Royal Photographic Society collection, the V&A’s expanding amalgamation of world-class photography collections has inspired the opening of a new Photography Centre in the V&A’s North East Quarter.

The first phase of the Photography Centre has been designed by David Kohn Architects, and will more than double the V&A’s dedicated space for photography. Curated by Martin Barnes, Susanna Brown and Marta Weiss, the first phase will open to the public on October 12 and the entrance is free.

In celebration of the opening, the V&A has also commissioned the internationally renowned photographer, Thomas Ruff, to create a new series of photographs. Ruff’s works will be inspired by Linnaeus Tripe’s 1850s negatives of India and Burma from the V&A’s collection and will offer a critical and conceptual approach to photography. 

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said: ‘Our collection—initiated by the V&A’s visionary first director Henry Cole­—now seamlessly spans the entire history of photography, telling the story of the medium from the daguerreotype to the digital.

‘Our new Photography Centre will provide a world-class facility to re-establish photography as one of our defining collections. In an era when everyone’s iPhone makes them a photographer, the V&A’s Photography Centre explores and explains the medium in a compelling new way,’ he added.

Indeed, the Photography Centre’s acknowledgement of both historical and contemporary photography is clear. It will feature a ‘dark tent’—a multimedia projection and lecture space inspired by 19th century photographer’s traveling darkrooms. Here, visitors will be able to discover early photographic processes and witness a slideshow projection of rarely seen magic lantern slides of the first attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1921 and 1922.

Moving forward in time, exciting examples of the Photography Centre’s modern and contemporary selection include photographs by Eugène Atget, Man Ray, Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and Martin Parr.

Also on display will be over 600 objects from across Europe, the U.S., Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Early pioneers of colour photography, including Agnes Warburg, Helen Messinger Murdoch and Nickolas Muray will be featured alongside newer additions to the museum by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Cornelia Parker, Linda McCartney and Mark Cohen.

Other works of interest include a pioneering botanical cyanotype by Anna Atkins, images by the world’s first female museum photographer, Isabel Agnes Cowper, and motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge.

Important collections such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s collection of photographs by his predecessors and contemporaries, and significant 20th century photojournalism collected by Magnum Photos’ UK agents, John and Judith Hillelson, will also be on display.

Before reaching these focused sections of the gallery, visitors will enter through a spectacular installation of over 150 cameras. An interactive camera handling station will also offer visitors an insight into the visionary world of photographers and their equipment.

The first two titles in The V&A Photography Library, in partnership with Thames and Hudson, will accompany the opening of the Photography Centre. A three-week spotlight on photography will also feature across the V&A. The museum will host talks by photographers, screenings, events, courses, workshops and a Friday Late dedicated to photography.

The opening of the Photography Centre is part of the V&A’s FuturePlan development program to rejuvenate the museum’s public spaces through contemporary design and restoration. Its second phase is planned to open in 2022 and will provide a teaching and research space, a browsing library and a studio and darkroom.

When not on display, photographs can be viewed in the Prints & Drawings Study Room and the collection can also be viewed at vam.ac.uk/collections/photographs.

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