The Photography Centre at the V&A
The V&A inaugurated their Photography Centre back in 2018 with the aim of sharing with the public a portion of its enviable photographic collection, which spans around 200 years and boasts approximately 800,000 images. The project is also a way of celebrating photography itself, which was previously underrepresented in the museum, compared to other visual art forms. The centre has now been extended and occupies seven galleries, making it the largest permanent collection of photography in the UK.
Although displaying only a fraction of the material in their archives, the V&A have put together a very richly furnished exhibition, which occupies the first two rooms. The photographs are very diverse in style and purpose, so they have been grouped under the umbrella title Energy: Sparks from the Collection. The general concept of energy allows the coexistence of street photography, observations of natural phenomena, images capturing explosions and space missions, or anything involving movement, nature and life in its many expressions.
There are striking shots by Cartier-Bresson of children playing outdoors, a series of photographs by Schulz-Dornburg documenting the movement of the sun through a window, the dances and rituals of a Sufi procession by Issa Touma, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius captured by Giorgio Sommer in 1872, the Indian Independence demonstrations by Sunil Janah, and plenty more fascinating moments in time documenting the most varied themes.
A connecting gallery acknowledges digital processes, which have become increasingly prominent, and beyond it is a vast library that lets visitors peruse photo books. Another section explores the photographic process, showcasing vintage cameras from the 1800s all the way to modern smartphones, with a final interactive room explaining what happens inside the photographic tool itself by letting visitors enter a camera obscura.
While the Photography Centre may not be the absolute highlight of a visit to the V&A, it is nevertheless an important addition to the museum’s remarkable collection, and it’s free to enter. The instructive approach makes it very insightful and it undoubtedly holds a few gems worth admiring.
The Photography Centre is part of the V&A’s permanent collection and is free to visit. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.