Our History

An image from the private view for The Concerned Photographer, the first exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery in 1971. Sue Davies is pictured in the middle of a large crowd.

Our History

People think there’s always been The Photographers' Gallery. Long may it remain, for ever and ever!

Sue Davies - founding Director of The Photographers' Gallery

Founded in 1971, in a former Lyon’s Tea Room in London’s Covent Garden, The Photographers’ Gallery was the UK’s first public gallery devoted to photography.  

More than fifty years later, the Gallery remains a place for the discovery, exploration and understanding of photography in all its forms and has been instrumental in reflecting photography’s place as one of our most significant contemporary art forms. 

Our founder: Sue Davies 

The Photographers’ Gallery was the vision of Sue Davies OBE (1933-2020). Frustrated by the lack of critical and institutional attention given to photography at the time, Sue blazed the way for a new appreciation of photography. She found a venue, secured funding – even re-mortgaged her house in the process to support her belief in the power of photography and the need to create a dedicated centre for its exhibition and exploration. From that passion was born the place The Photographers’ Gallery still is today – a home for photographers and photography lovers everywhere; and a place for the curious to discuss, discover and develop photography. 

Sue was something of a legend in Soho, and among photography circles the world over. With the invaluable support of photographer Dorothy Bohm (1924-2023), Sue worked tirelessly as Director of the Gallery from 1971-1991, garnering financial and creative support for its programme of informed and imaginative exhibitions, and securing its place as a home for photographers. Her commitment to emerging talent, and the development of photography remain her great legacy for both the Gallery and the world of photography more broadly. 

The Photographers’ Gallery opens its doors 

The inaugural exhibition was The Concerned Photographer – a powerful and provocative presentation of social documentary work curated by the great Hungarian/American photographer, Cornell Capa (brother of Robert), and featuring photographers such as Werner Bischof, Robert Capa and André Kertész. Admission to the exhibition was the princely sum of 4/- or 20 new pence and marked one of the last outings for the shilling/pence system before the introduction of 'Decimal Day' on 15 Feb 1971. 

Over the years the Gallery has introduced a rich and compelling roster of international photographers such as Juergen Teller, Sally Mann, Sebastião Salgado, Weegee, Cindy Sherman, Roman Vishniac, Gordon Parks, VALIE EXPORT, Andreas Gursky, Francesca Woodman, Helen Levitt and Taryn Simon, while also championing the work of UK pioneers including Colin Jones, Shirley Baker, Martin Parr, Tish Murtha, Zineb Sedira and Corinne Day – among many others. 

Since 1997, The Photographers’ Gallery has further identified and supported photographic talent through the annual Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of Deutsche Börse’s partnership with The Photographers’ Gallery. Now in its 28th year, the Prize is renowned as one of the most important awards for photographers, spotlighting outstanding, innovative and thought-provoking work. 

A new home 

In May 2012, The Photographers’ Gallery moved to its current home in Ramillies Street, Soho. The five-storey building designed by award-winning architects O’Donnell + Tuomey offers visitors three floors of world-class exhibition spaces; an education studio; café, bookshop and print sales gallery

2021 marked 50 years since the Gallery’s inception and to celebrate its past and cement its future, a special archival display was created alongside other anniversary events. An online snapshot of 50 exhibitions tells the story of both the Gallery and photography itself over the last half century. 

In 2022, Soho Photography Quarter opened - a brand new outdoor space, bringing the best of contemporary photography for free, day and night, right on the doorstep of the Gallery.