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“We finally have a space worthy of our collection”: V&A launches huge new Photography Centre

V&A has completed a vast new photography centre
The new centre is the UK's largest space housing a permanent photography collection
The Photography Centre has seven galleries
The latest four galleries have been designed by Purcell and Gibson Thornley Architects
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"This is a defining moment for photography at the V&A"
– Tristram Hunt, director, V&A London
Credit: (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has launched the final phase of its huge new photography centre, making it the largest space in the UK housing a permanent photography collection.

The V&A Photography Centre features seven galleries, showcasing 600 pieces from the V&A’s vast, 200-year-old photography collection.

The first phase of the project launched in 2018, with three galleries designed by architects David Kohn. The final phase sees the addition of four new galleries, designed by architects Gibson Thornley and Purcell.

“This is a defining moment for photography at the V&A,” said V&A director Tristram Hunt. “The V&A has always been a pioneer in its support for photography. It was the first museum worldwide to collect and exhibit photographs, and we continue to improve the collection by acquiring exciting new works. We now have a space where visitors can explore the past, present and future of photography. This is a big moment.”

The centre’s first two galleries – opened in 2018 – house photos exploring the theme of energy in an exhibition titled Energy: Sparks from the Collection. These include some of the earliest photos from the 1840s, as well as a range of contemporary photographs, with highlights including a series of children playing by Henri Cartier Bresson and Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of the scientist John Herschel.

Next, the Photography and the Book gallery showcases the Royal Photographic Society Library in a restored, soaring space, alongside temporary displays, including an exploration of the photography of dogs in How not to Photograph a Bulldog.

The new Digital Gallery will exhibit changing works – the launch exhibition is by digital artist Jake Elwes, who explores the biases of AI with his thought-provoking and joyous ‘deepfake drag cabaret’ video installation.

The following two new galleries exhibit recent V&A acquisitions by contemporary artists from around the world, exploring some of the most present issues of the day including climate change, gender identity and colonial histories. A huge photographic sculpture by French visual artist Noémie Goudal questions the notion of time and humans’ perception of the environment.

The final room features an interactive timeline of cameras from the earliest to today, and a walk-in camera obscura that aims to give visitors a physical understanding of the mechanics of photography.

“After 150 years of championing photography, the V&A finally has a space worthy of its collection,” said Marta Weiss, senior curator of photography at the V&A.

In an interview with Attractions Management, Weiss said, “Photography has been at the heart of the V&A since its foundation. The museum has a vast and very varied collection, especially now we have the RPS collection.

“We now have space in which to really to do it justice.

“I want visitors to have the opportunity to experience our incredible collection and to learn new things about photography. We can learn a lot about what photography means today both by seeing the latest most exciting contemporary practice and by engaging with photography’s past.

“As photography plays an ever-increasing role in all our lives, the expanded Photography Centre will be more relevant than ever.”

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