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Inspiring spaces: The Photographers’ Gallery

29 May 2012 Anita Mistry

London Calling's Anita Mistry discovers the newly re-opened Photographers' Gallery in the heart of Soho...

The Photographers’ Gallery re-opened it’s doors on 19 May 2012 after a multi-million pound restoration project. The gallery moved to it’s current site in 2010 and undertook a huge refurbishment project, converting the 1910 warehouse building into a five storey space with three floors of galleries, a studio space for educational activities, café and bookshop, which are both accessible via the open plan entrance creating a welcoming and lively environment. The transformation was designed by award winning architects O’Donnell+Tuomey and includes an environmentally controlled floor which will allow for the gallery to show more works from archives and museum collections.
 
The Photographers’ Gallery first opened in 1971 and was the first independent gallery in Britain dedicated to photography. Originally based in Great Newport Street, the gallery acquired a second building on the same street in 1980. Playing a leading role in establishing photography’s important role in culture and society, its central London location and exhibitions of photographers from various industries including fashion, journalism, documentary and contemporary art, The Photographers' Gallery has made itself a vital focus for photography in London.
 
Brett Rogers has been Director of the gallery since 2005. Starting with her work in her native Australia as an exhibition manager to her MA at The Courtauld in London, to her work with the British Council in championing British photographers abroad, Brett has a wealth of experience promoting photography and visual arts. She says, “Whether on the gallery walls, through printed pages or new technologies, our programmes will provide a platform for current debates, new ideas and creative collaborations. Our building will create a vibrant social and intellectual hub in the heart of London’s Soho for people of all levels of interest to enjoy the most democratic of all art forms.”
 
The opening show is Burtynsky: OIL. The exhibition of the renowned Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky, reveals the unseen manufacture and distribution of one of the world’s most highly contested resources. The images are beautiful and dramatic, highlighting the effect and hold this substance has over our lives. Burtynsky bridges the disconnect between the consumer world and the oil industry with images rich in detail and clarity, taking us on a journey through this little explored area. Oil is in some ways invisible to us, and yet we are surrounded by it, from the cars we drive to the plastic packaging that almost all our consumer goods come in; Burtnsky also highlights the fact that our use of oil is coming to an end with rising costs and diminishing supplies.
 
Alongside the Burtynsky show, two other projects are exhibiting. New Delhi based Raqs Media Collective are showing a piece – a silent video looped projection called An Afternoon Unregistered on the Richter Scale (2011). The video shows a series of subtle alterations to an early 20th century photo of a surveyor’s office in colonial Calcutta.
 
The gallery has a new digital ‘wall’ which will be hosting projects that will raise questions around the changing status and circulation of photography, social media channels, mobile devices and the gallery’s website – explored as alternative platforms for exhibitions. The current display is BORN IN 1987: The Animated Gif, an exhibition about the overlooked image format exclusive to the computer screen.
 
The Photographers’ Gallery has a great programme of exhibitions and events for 2012, including the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize this summer and The World in London, a project that is coinciding with the London 2012 games and aims to capture the diverse range of nationalities that live in London and are from all the nations competing in the games. 2012 is a great chance for The Photographers’ Gallery to really shine and London welcomes it back with open arms.
 

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