Photography is embedded in the history of the V&A. The museum has collected and exhibited photography since its foundation in the 1850s, and today the collection is one of the largest and most varied in the world.
Highlights of the opening displays comprise recent acquisitions exhibited at the museum for the first time, including works by celebrated contemporary photographers Liz Johnson Artur, Sammy Baloji, Vera Lutter, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Tarrah Krajnak and Vasantha Yogananthan, as well as a monumental photographic sculpture by Noémie Goudal. Two major new commissions supported by the Manitou Fund have been unveiled: a photographic series by leading Indian photographer Gauri Gill, and a digital commission by British media artist Jake Elwes, who has explored the use of deepfake technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) with drag cabaret performance. The Manitou Fund has committed to funding six commissions for the Photography Centre, which will see a new print and digital commission in 2023, 2025 and 2027. The breadth of subject matter explored by these international artists includes identity, race, sexuality, and climate change, together with a wide range of technical approaches and practices.
Other new spaces include a room dedicated to Photography and the Book, housing the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Library, spectacularly installed on floor-to-ceiling shelves. The small display within this room, How Not to Photograph a Bulldog, is a light-hearted foray into one of the many topics covered by the photographic manuals in the RPS Library. Additionally, an interactive gallery about the history and use of the camera features a walk-in camera obscura.
The Photography Centre also presents new, themed displays beginning with Energy: Sparks from the Collection. This display examines the many kinds of energy in photography, both the hidden processes intrinsic to creating a picture, and the subjects in front of the camera. Featuring around 200 works from the 1840s through to the present day, the display demonstrates how power in all its diverse forms has sparked the imaginations of photographers. Highlights include some of the earliest photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot, as well as works by Richard Avedon, Brassaï, Henri Cartier Bresson, Joana Choumali, Naoya Hatakeyama, Dorothea Lange, Man Ray and Jo Spence.
Marta Weiss, V&A Senior Curator of Photography and Lead Curator of Phase Two of the Photography Centre, said: “Photography lies at the heart of the V&A. The museum has collected photography since 1852 and continues to acquire the best of contemporary practice. As photography plays an ever-increasing role in all our lives, the expanded Photography Centre will be more relevant than ever. We look forward to welcoming visitors to explore the medium’s diverse histories and enjoy our world-leading collection.”