The Photographers’ Gallery opened in 1971 in Covent Garden as the first UK public gallery dedicated to the medium, moving to a converted former textile warehouse off Oxford Street in 2012. It’s unusual among public institutions in the role given to commercial activity, maintaining an area for print sales with proceeds helping to support the public programme, and also running probably the best specialist photography bookshop in London. Two notably long-serving directors have overseen much of the programme: founder-director Sue Davies (1971-91) and Brett Rogers (2005-22) – Shoair Mavlian succeeded her. A regular highlight is the exhibition of the four finalists in the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, initiated by the gallery in 1996 to recognise the photographer judged to contribute most in Europe during the preceding year… which doesn’t rule out non-Europeans, such as former winners Joel Sternfeld, Walid Raad and Cao Fei if they have exhibited in Europe. The prize show aside, I recall excellent presentations of Andy Warhol, John Deakin and Gregory Crewdson in the early years at Ramillies Street, and a hat-trick of solos by socially engaged women more recently: Shirley Baker, Trish Murtha and Helen Levitt.
The current Daido Moriyama retrospective (open as usual this week) may well be the best show yet: certainly, it is the most extensive I can recall, not only covering four floors rather than the usual two for major shows but doing so with an overwhelming volume of images, including the whole of his famously radical book ‘Farewell Photography’ (1972) presented as a wallpaper installation. The glut suits both the veteran Japanese photographer’s democratic approach and the relish with which he subverts normal formats.
London’s gallery scene is varied, from small artist-run spaces to major institutions and everything in between. Each week, art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent gives a personal view of a space worth visiting.