The Photographers’ Gallery and Deutsche Börse Prize

The Photographers’ Gallery in London – a few minutes from Oxford Circus – is a must for the photo enthusiast. It’s the type of institution any city should have in some shape or form as part of its cultural policy. The Photographers’ Gallery could serve as a model or inspiration, I believe, to anyone.

This is how the history of the place is presented on its homepage:

The Photographers’ Gallery was founded in 1971 by Sue Davies OBE in a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar at No. 8 Great Newport Street in London’s Covent Garden.

Free to the public, it was the first gallery in the world to be devoted solely to photography. The aim, born from Davies’ own passion for photography, and frustration that it was denied the consideration and exhibition platform of other visual arts, was to provide a proper home for photographers and their work, as well as establish the medium as a serious art form. Through an illuminating and influential programme of exhibitions, talks and educational activities, the Gallery elevated photography as an artistic and cultural leader whilst promoting its vital role as a social and historical document.

1971…the first gallery in the world devoted solely! Oh, how late in the history of art – and Oh, how fast things have changed!

Here is everything you may want to know before visiting this place which has changing exhibitions, library and education, print and book sales, online bookstore, lecture and meeting facilities, cafeteria and more – and still it is not big. You can see everything in an hour or two.

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The main show when I visited was of the four shortlisted candidates for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2016: Laura El-Tantawy, Erik Kessels, Tobias Zielony and Trevor Paglen.

It was announced on June 10 that Paglen was the winner. Here is a presentation of each and a video with each of them.

Paglen’s work explores “mass surveillance, data collection, classified satellite and drone activities and the systems of power connected to them. His installation comprises images of restricted military and government areas, skylines showing the flight tracks of passing drones, sculptural elements and
research assembled in collaboration with scientist, amateur astronomers and human rights activists.

Through his work Paglen demonstrates that secrets cannot be hidden from view, but that their traces and structures are visible evidence in the landscape.”

Add to that hugely innovative and political aim that Paglen manages to produce some aesthetically very very attractive, almost abstract, images – and you have the winner.

But I think they could all have been winners. Very innovative and with a human touch and three of them political – Eric Kessels making use of not only photos but also exhibiting the little old ‘real’ car his story builds on.

Here two – poor – shots of one of Paglen’s photos – “They Watch The Moon” 2010.

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And “Reaper Drone” 2010; note the drone – tiny black dot – in the lower right side of the image.

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I also enjoyed the exhibition “Double Take: Drawing And Photography”. It’s interesting that exhibitions now appear in which photography’s relations and historical connections to other art forms are explored – as is also the case at Tate Britain’s “Painting With Light. Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age”

“Drawing” here could mean many things -drawing with a light source on some medium; drawing as drawing with a pencil or similar; or drawing in the sense of looking as if it was drawn. An example of the latter: Jolana Havelková’s “First Time Skating” (2008-2009) on Hahnemühle paper. Here the drawing is obviously done by some kind of figure skating:

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Remarkable abstract beauty! And yet totally documentary – and drawn…by feet!

See a video about this exhibition here.

In the Print Sales Gallery I fell for the world-class black-and-white photos from the 1940s and 1950s by Bert Hardy, selected from his own collection. Somewhat earlier than my mentor, Danish photographer Viggo Rivad (who died 93 years old earlier this year) – but still so many parallels in motifs, style and passion for the life and fate of human beings.

Look at more of Bert Hardy’s truly moving photography here.

The Photographers’ Gallery is a treasure, so diverse an attitude and with a brilliant focus on being educational. And, yes, free admission on mornings before 12. Thank you for that!

Then I walked through Hyde Park – so beautiful on this sunny Sunday – toward Victoria and Albert Museum and explored a bit some trees and the effects of loooong exposures.

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