If you were interested in photography in the 1970s you went to The Photographers' Gallery....David Brittain - Curator
...if you were very lucky you might catch a glimpse of its celebrated founder, Sue Davies, whose small office was readily accessible at the back of the gallery…I was never quite sure if I was entering a gallery or a photographers' studio. A pin board in the scruffy vestibule contained adverts for models and used camera equipment, and once inside, a whiff of fix from a nearby darkroom (the London Camera Club) mingled with the smell of wall paint…"
On a crisp, cold yet brilliantly sunny morning in January 1971, a new gallery space taking over an old Lyons Tea Room in London’s Covent Garden, opened its doors for the very first time. Simply called The Photographers’ Gallery, it was the first place in the UK dedicated entirely to the medium of photography
The inaugural exhibition was titled 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.
The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG) 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 the medium. She went out on a limb, finding a venue, securing funding - even remortgaging her house in the process to support her belief in the power of photography and the need to create a centre for its exhibition and exploration. From that passion was born the place TPG still is today – a home for photographers and photography lovers everywhere; and a place for the curious to discuss, discover and develop the medium.
Sue was something of a legend in Soho, and among photography circles the world over. She 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 the medium, remain one of her greatest legacies for both the Gallery and photography more widely.
Over the years, TPG has continued to be a force for ensuring photography’s cultural and creative ascendency, presenting a world-renown programme of exhibitions and events and bringing to public attention a compelling roster of international photographers as well as supporting UK based talent.
2021 marks 50 years since the Gallery’s inception and to celebrate its past and cement its future, we have created a special archival display alongside other anniversary events and created an online snapshot of 50 exhibitions that tell the story of both the Gallery and photography itself over the last half century.