The Photographers’ Gallery first opened its doors on 14 January 1971 presenting The Concerned Photographer, curated by photographer Cornell Capa, and first shown in New York in 1967. This exhibition included work by Robert Capa, Werner Bischof, Chim, Andre Kertesz, Leonard Freed and Dan Weiner, alongside Cornell Capa's own photographs. Of The Concerned Photographer, which existed as both an exhibition and a book published in 1968, Cornell Capa wrote:
The Concerned Photographer finds much in the present unacceptable which he tries to alter. Our goal is simply to let the world also know why it is unacceptable.
The Photographers’ Gallery was the first independent gallery in Britain devoted to photography. It was founded by Sue Davies, OBE at 8 Great Newport Street in a converted Lyon's Tea Bar. Nine years later in 1980, The Photographers' Gallery expanded to include an additional gallery space at 5 Great Newport Street, thus occupying two separate sites on the same street. In 2008 the Gallery moved to a nearby building on Ramillies Street, a former warehouse built in 1910, and began a major redevelopment of that building in 2010. The fully refurbished building reopened to the public on May 19, 2012.
As the UK's primary venue for photography, The Photographers’ Gallery has been instrumental in establishing photography’s important role in culture and society; it has provided a vital focus for the medium in the heart of London and has been the first public gallery in the country to exhibit key names in international photography, such as Jürgen Teller (fashion), Robert Capa (photojournalism), Sebastião Salgado (documentary) and Catherine Opie (contemporary art), alongside promoting the names of contemporary British photographers including Martin Parr and Corinne Day.
Work by significant international artists such as Rineke Dijkstra, Boris Mikhailov, Rinko Kawauchi and Joel Sternfeld have also been shown in recent years. Finally, The Photographers' Gallery occasionally presents work from photography and other types of archives, for example The London Fire Brigade archives and an archive of studio portrait photography by Harry Jacobs, a high street studio photographer who worked for over 40 years in Brixton, South London.
Across all its exhibitions, talks, events and projects, The Photographers’ Gallery continues to emphasise the now ubiquitous engagement with photography in contemporary society.