V&A Open Phase Two of the Museum’s Photography Centre
15th June 2023
Last month the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington opened the second and final phase of its Photography Centre. Opening four new rooms, the department has now claimed seven beautiful 19th-century picture galleries, making the museum the largest space in the UK for permanent photography collections. The V&A began collecting photography in 1852 and now holds over a million artefacts relating to the history of the medium. The new centre will showcase the museum’s world-leading collection, while enabling visitors to experience photography and its diverse histories in new ways.
For the opening of ‘Phase 2’, the V&A commissioned works by contemporary artists to be displayed alongside acclaimed works by some of history’s best known photographers. The first two galleries are dedicated to a new display, ‘Energy: Sparks from the Collection’, which explores the hidden processes intrinsic to creating photos, while following their progress chronologically from the 1840s to today. The Modern Media Gallery challenges definitions of what photography is, posing questions around how photography is used today. This gallery showcases a new digital commision by British media artist, Jake Elwes.
An exciting new addition to the Photography Centre is a library space, which reflects on the role that books and publications have played in the presentation and consumption of photography since its inception. Changing displays of rare photographic books, periodicals and archival material will be held in the library. The first of which is ‘How Not to Photograph a Bulldog’, a lighthearted display drawn from photographic manuals in the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), which reveals how dogs have been used to teach photography and how ‘dog photography’ has developed into a distinct discipline in its own right.
Another alluring feature to the new Centre is a walk-in camera obscura, which demonstrates the fundamental optical phenomenon behind how cameras work. A timeline of cameras, from the Victorian view camera to the first iPhone, is accompanied by animations that reveal their inner workings.
Two galleries are dedicated to global contemporary photography, showcasing some of the most prominent photographers working today. The current display includes a new commission from leading Indian photographer Gauri Gill which depicts temporary architecture on the outskirts of New Delhi. Gill shows the ingenuity of the constructed makeshift buildings made to house farmers who have travelled to the Capital to protest new laws that threaten their economic security. A spectacular anthropomorphic photographic monument by the French photographer and visual artist Noémie Goudal brings photography off the wall and into the gallery space itself.
The V&A Photography Centre blends fine art photography with photojournalism and the works of photographic amateurs, touching on the vast array of practices that comprise photography as a medium. The long and intricate history of photography, beginning as scientific experimentation, fighting for recognition as a creative medium, instrumental in modernism, political propaganda, and consumerism, ruptured by developments in technology (digital photography, the internet, AI) can all be traced through this vast resource.