V&A opens its Photography Centre, a national collection of the art of photography
The South Kensington Museum first opened its doors in 1857. The grand opening was attended by Queen Victoria, and in 1899 the museum paid honour to her and her late husband in its renaming as the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The galleries within were under the directorship of Sir Henry Cole. His keen interest in amateur photography became a driving force in the early acquisition of images and eventually culminated in the first exhibition of photography in 1858.
Although the collection steadily grew it was the substantial lot the museum received from The Royal Photographic Society in 2017 that motivated the first phase of this £3 million investment in their new Photography Centre. Reconfigured under the appointment of David Kohn Architects, it spans across three spaces with an additional “Dark Tent” for multi-media projections and with lecture-sized capacity.
Visitors start their exploration at the top of the east stairwell where two symmetrical floor-to-ceiling glass display cabinets showcase around 140 cameras; for novices alone it’s a fascinating look at the contraptions of bygone times and, in addition, a trestle table adjacent lets budding enthusiasts handle some of the cameras up-close.
The first room is the Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery. The display Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital begins here and explores the idea of “Collecting the World”. There is a mass of colourful Brownie cameras, early photographic albums and a large glass case with a valuable brass and wood tripod from William Talbot Fox. A centralised casket houses four stereoscopic viewers where visitors can sit and peer through charming early examples of three-dimensional illusions. The walls here, painted an earthly dark historic blue, play as a perfect background to an array of fantastic rarities including photos from children’s author Lewis Carroll.
In the second room, a palette of mustard-yellow walls and gallery seating provides a reflection area where visitors can absorb the ten huge paper negatives from acclaimed artist Thomas Ruff. Moving through this room, a cute self portrait of Cindy Sherman sits alongside vibrant and candid images from the likes of Mary McCartney and Mark Cohen. These permanent collections are a contrast to the third space, where ever-changing pieces will give the centre a fresh and contemporary vibe.
There will be month-long spotlight talks from artists like Rankin and Mary McCartney, and with a modern royal patronage from Catherine Middleton the Photography Centre’s relevance and a promised expansion planned for 2022 should mean more space for upcoming image artists too.
Photos: Yufan Wang
Photography Centre is open from 12th October. For further information visit the V&A’s website here.