History of the Gallery
Exterior view of 8 Great Newport Street, 1971 (detail) © Dorothy Bohm/ Courtesy The Photographers' Gallery
The Photographers' Gallery was founded in 1971 by Sue Davies OBE in a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar at No. 8 Great Newport Street in London’s Covent Garden.
Free to the public, it was the first gallery in the world to be devoted solely to photography. The aim, born from Davies’ own passion for photography, and frustration that it was denied the consideration and exhibition platform of other visual arts, was to provide a proper home for photographers and their work, as well as establish the medium as a serious art form. Through an illuminating and influential programme of exhibitions, talks and educational activities, the Gallery elevated photography as an artistic and cultural leader whilst promoting its vital role as a social and historical document.
The inaugural exhibition on 14 January 1971 was The Concerned Photographer, an exhibition first shown in New York and curated by leading photojournalist Cornell Capa. Featuring work that demonstrated an impulse not to just record the world, but to educate and change it, this landmark exhibition established The Photographers' Gallery as a significant new voice in the cultural landscape and a unique centre for photography.
The appointment of Tom Hopkinson, ex-editor of Picture Post, as the chair of the Gallery’s Board of Trustees brought invaluable support from the newspaper community. This included a contribution to the Gallery running costs from Fleet Street, and the implementation in 1972 of an annual exhibition of press images - a further notable step in giving the work of reportage photography both public and critical attention. Additionally, the implementation of an annual exhibition for young photographers set a precedent for identifying, showcasing and supporting new talent in this field.
Quickly building up a reputation for presenting informed, imaginative, sometimes provocative, always relevant presentations of established and new work from some of the greatest and most visionary photographers of our time, The Photographers’ Gallery became a must-visit for anyone interested in the form, its development as a leading artistic medium and its relationship to wider culture.
In 1980 the Gallery acquired an additional space at No. 5 Great Newport Street, extending its exhibition spaces and allowing the development of a bookshop and café, as well as a Print Sales room, dedicated to promoting and selling the work of British and international photographers. Both in ambition and scale, The Photographers' Gallery grew from strength to strength, leading the way in photographic presentation in the UK and providing an essential place for the medium’s development.
Four decades later, after a major capital campaign and the purchase and redevelopment of a 1910 warehouse in Ramillies Street, Soho, The Photographers’ Gallery was able to extend its ambitions and activities for photographic exploration even further by relocating to its new and current home in May 2012.
The specially designed building in the heart of the West End, offers three world-class exhibition spaces, a dedicated education and learning studio, a digital media wall, an enhanced area for the bookshop and Print Sales – including a gallery – as well as a spacious café area.
With such increased facilities, The Photographers’ Gallery has the capability to be even more ambitious with its programme and activities and to be a unique platform for showcasing British and international artists and new photographic developments.
Over the last forty years, it has been responsible for bringing such key names in international photography as Robert Capa, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Dorothea Lange, Sebastião Salgado, Andreas Gursky, Lee Miller, Juergen Teller, Boris Mikhailov, Joel Sternfeld and Taryn Simon to UK audiences, as well as championing the work of UK-based practitioners including Angus McBean, Bill Brandt, Martin Parr, Jo Spence, Nick Knight, Corinne Day, Hannah Starkey, Nick Waplington and Idris Khan
A key part of the programme, is the prestigious annual international photography Prize. Founded in 1996 with Citigroup, the Prize is now sponsored by the Deutsche Börse group and celebrates its 10 year anniversary in 2014. This high-profile exhibition and award of £30,000 celebrates and commends a living photographer for a distinctive body of work or publication (produced in the year before the award is given) that has significantly contributed towards photography in Europe. Past prize-winners include Andreas Gursky (1998), Shirana Shahbazi (2002), Juergen Teller (2003) Luc Delahaye (2005), Robert Adams (2006), Walid Raad (2007), Esko Männikkö (2008), Paul Graham (2009), Sophie Ristelhueber (2010), Jim Goldberg (2011), artist duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin (2013) and the 2014 winner Richard Mosse.
The Photographers Gallery is the only public gallery in London to specialise in such dedicated presentation and exploration of photography. It remains committed to its founding principles of being a home for an international photographic community and leads the way in championing photography as a vital, urgent, art form and invaluable means of interpreting and understanding the world around us.