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V&A Photography Centre: One of the most inspiring collections of photography in the world

black and white photograph of seascape

Gustave Le Gray (1820-84) – Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean, 1856-59. Albumen print. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A’s Photography Centre opens four new whopping great galleries drawing on a vast collection of over 800,000 photographs. Here’s a selection of them

Designed by David Kohn Architects, phase one of the V&A’s new Photography Centre has more than doubled the space dedicated to photography at the V&A, spanning four new galleries.

The opening display, Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital, explores photography as a way of ‘collecting the world’, from the medium’s invention in the 19th century to the present day.

Drawn from the V&A’s collection of over 800,000 photographs, which was augmented in 2016 by the transfer of over 300,000 objects from the The Royal Photographic Society’s collection stored at the National Media Museum in Bradford, the display showcases some of the most exciting contemporary photography being created today.

It also shows seminal prints by pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron and Roger Fenton, alongside negatives, camera equipment, photographic publications and original documents to tell a broader story about the history of international photography.

sepia toned image of a church overlooking a pond

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (1815-94) A Photographic Truth, 1852-54, Calotype negative © The RPS Collection at the V&A

sepia toned image of a shelf containing objects made from china

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), Articles of China, 1844, Salted paper print, varnished © The RPS Collection at the V&A

sepia toned image of young woman in white dress surrounded by foliage

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) Pomona, 1872, Albumen print © The RPS Collection at the V&A

In the Modern Media Gallery (formerly the V&A’s Gallery 99), a frequently changing selection of new acquisitions, a ‘Light Wall’ for displaying screen-based photography, and a ‘Dark Tent’ projection area complete the space.

V&A Director Tristram Hunt said the V&A collection, established by the V&A’s visionary first director Henry Cole, “now seamlessly spans the entire history of photography, telling the story of the medium from the daguerreotype to the digital”.

Describing the new Photography Centre as “a world-class facility to re-establish photography as one of our defining collections” Hunt added that “in an era when everyone’s iPhone makes them a photographer, the V&A’sPhotography Centre explores and explains the medium in a compelling new way.”

x-ray image of a foot in a shoe, the toe cap and nails holding the shoe together are visible

Ernest Payne (1859-1936), X-Ray Photograph of a foot in a shoe, 1896, Gelatin silver print bound in album © The RPS Collection at the V&A

series of 16 images showing the movement of a camel while trotting

Eadweard Muybridge,Camel trotting from Animal Locomotion, 1887, Collotype print © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

sepia toned photograph of board covered in objects including pieces of fabric, string, coins, hooks and buttons

Frederick William Bond (1887-1942), Contents of an Ostrich’s Stomach, About 1930, Bromide print © The RPS Collection at the V&A

Visitors enter the new Centre through a spectacular installation of over 150 cameras spanning 160 years. Nearby, an interactive camera handling station offers visitors an understanding of how photographers view the world through their equipment.

Inside the gallery, focused sections look at a series of collections and collectors. This includes an important group of William Henry Fox Talbot’s cameras and prints; 1850s fine art photographs collected by Chauncey Hare Townshend, friend of Charles Dickens; Pictorialist photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn’s collection of photographs by his predecessors and contemporaries; and a selection of some of the most significant photojournalism of the 20th century collected by Magnum Photos’ UK agents, John and Judith Hillelson.

A stereoscope viewer gives an immersive 3-D experience of Crystal Palace alongside some of the first photographs ever taken of Japan.

black and white photographic image of mountaintops visible between clouds

Newton & Co. with Mount Everest Committee, Slide 136 – the highest photograph ever taken, Lantern Slide © The RPS Collection at the V&A

black and white photograph of large ice formation with two men and several dogs resting on the snow below

Herbert Ponting, Scott’s Last Expedition, Dog Team Resting, 1910-1911, Carbon print © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

diptych image showing two sepia toned photographs of a man. On the left he is carrying a sack of logs and on the right he is carrying a tray of small barrels above his head

William Carrick (1827-78), From an album of ‘Russian Types’, About 1860, Albumen prints, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

black and white cropped head and shoulders photograph of a young girl

Fredick Holland Day (1864-1933) Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia, 1905, Gum platinum print © The RPS Collection at the V&A

Over 600 objects made across Europe, the US, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have been brought together for Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital. The display features images by early colour photography pioneers, Agnes Warburg, Helen Messinger Murdoch and Nickolas Muray, and recent acquisitions by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Cornelia Parker, Linda McCartney, Marco Breuer, Pierre Cordier and Mark Cohen.

A ground-breaking botanical cyanotype by Anna Atkins, images by the world’s first female museum photographer, Isabel Agnes Cowper, and motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge, join photographs by some of the world’s most influential modern and contemporary photographers, including Eugène Atget, Man Ray, Bill Brandt, Walker Evans, Edward Steichen, Cindy Sherman and Martin Parr.

The Photography Centre’s new Dark Tent is a flexible multimedia projection and lecture space inspired by 19th-century photographers’ travelling darkrooms. Specially commissioned films reveal early photographic processes, including the daguerreotype, calotype and wet collodion process, which are screened, along with a slideshow of rarely-seen magic lantern slides revealing the first attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1921 and 1922, among other photographic projections.

cyanotype image of old woman sat at a table with a large cooking dish

Linda McCartney (1941-1998), Auntie Jin, 1984, Cyanotype (c) 1968 Paul McCartney Photographer Linda McCartney

photograph of Paul McCartney wearing large shearling coat with baby inside

Linda McCartney, Paul and Mary. Scotland, 1970 © 1970 Paul McCartney. Photographer – Linda McCartney

black and white photograph showing woman in a bath holding her foot

Mary McCartney, Bath One, 2004, Bromide Print (c) Mary McCartney

Hailing the V&A collection as “one of the finest and most inspiring collections of photography in the world” Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A says “Photography is one of our most powerful forms of global communication, and I’m thrilled that we can contextualise the past and present of this powerful medium in new and exciting ways.”

A second phase of the Photography Centre, planned to open in 2022, will expand the new Centre further, with ambitions to include a teaching and research space, a browsing library and a studio and darkroom for photographers’ residencies.

photograph of the torso of a person sstood on the street wearing a thick coat, they have one bare hand and are wearing a red glove on the other

Mark Cohen (b.1943), One red glove, Wilkes-Barre, 1975, Dye-transfer print. © Mark Cohen & Victoria and Albert Museum, London

photograph of pebble beach with mops and dusters in varying heights and colours protruding from the stones

Sian Bonnell (b.1956), Beach Clean, 1999, C-type print © Sian Bonnell Victoria and Albert Museum, London

black and white photograph of the back of a woman's head with braids and hanging orb earrings

J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014), HD17670 (Fro Fro), 1969-75, Gelatin silver print, printed 2012 © J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeik, V&A

The V&A Photography Centre opens on October 12 2018. Admission Free. 

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Victoria and Albert Museum

London, Greater London

As the world's leading museum of art and design, the V&A enriches people's lives by promoting the practice of design and increasing knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the designed world.

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