50 Years of The Photographer’s Gallery: 1970s

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As The Photographers’ Gallery celebrates its 50th wedding anniversary, director Brett Rogers talks through some of the 1970s shows from its exhibition history

With its doors first opened on fourteen January 1971, The Photographers’ Gallery celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and it is marking the occasion with an ambitious programme of displays and digital content.

Together with Light Years , a four-part exhibition series drawing on components from the gallery’s history [you can read more about it in the Activism & Protest issue], director Brett Rogers, alongside the head of development Clare Grafik and the curatorial team, have also put together 50 Exhibitions for fifty Years – an online resource revisiting 50 of the gallery’s most significant past exhibitions. Split up into five chapters, each section pertains to a different decade, starting with the 1970s.  

Established by Sue Davies, The particular Photographers’ Gallery’s vision, right from the beginning, was to advocate for photography as an talent in its own right, plus, reflecting the landscape of photography at the time, many of the exhibitions it hosted in those people early years were framed around photojournalism and socially-engaged procedures. “The Gallery had solid links to Fleet Street in the early years, ” explains Rogers, “and renowned figures like Tom Hopkinson, the former editor of Picture Post , were great champions of the new Photo gallery and its mission. ” 

The very first show, The Concerned Photographer , may be the first of 10 selections out of this decade. Curated by Cornell Capa, it was “a cooperation with the Fund for Concerned Photography in New York (latterly the International Centre of Photography), ” says Rogers, “and a celebration associated with humanist photography. ” Which includes eyewitness work by professional photographers such as Werner Bischof and Andres Kertesz, it is certainly an effective first coordinate when plotting out the gallery’s origins.  

Display Poster. Leonard Freed: The Spectre of Violence, held at The Photographers’ Gallery, goal July – 18 August 1973. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery Archive, London.

Exhibition Poster Colin Jones: The Black House, held at The Photographers’ Gallery, ’04 May – 04 June 1977
Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery Archive, London

Colin Jones: The Black House, held at The Photographers’ Gallery, ’04 May – 04 June 1977
Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery Archive, London

Sue Davies and Ralph Gibson at the Rencontres D’Arles
Photography Celebration, 1975. By Jean Dieuzaide. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery Archive

“This was followed by other documentary and reportage projects, ” Rogers continues, “such as Scoop, Scandal and Turmoil: A History of Newspaper Digital photography in the same 12 months, and Leonard Freed’s Spectre of Violence (1973) with pictures initially commissioned by The Sunday Times . Other examples of documented projects, which involved an even more in-depth engagement between photographer and subject, began to come in the programme later on, for example Colin Jones’s The particular Black House (1977), and Janine Wiedel’s Vulcan’s Forge (1979). ” Where some of the earlier shows were important to include because they reiterate photography’s social place at the time, work like Jones’, which was shot over the course of three years at a hostel intended for young Black people in North London, shows the particular gallery’s dedication to brand new approaches. And, new thinking about around matters of image-making, identity and agency.    

Elsewhere among the selections, Rogers also wanted to present that it wasn’t just documented and reportage that the TPG championed in the 70s. “The Gallery’s first decade associated with exhibitions remained very contemporary and reflected Sue Davies’ belief that photography of kinds could be utilised to bring in audiences and broaden the appeal of the medium, ” she says. “For this reason, the first decade of spotlight shows all of us chose are deliberately far reaching. In addition to the documentary projects, the 70s also included Donald Bailey’s first retrospective Bailey Up Till Right now (1974), intriguing vernacular archives such as Electronic J Bellocq: Storyville Pictures (1978) and artwork photography from international artists such as the life size photograms of Floris M. Neusüss (1976) whose installation involved sculptural works propped facing the walls of the gallery space. ” From explorations of photography’s role in news media, to some early experiments with moving the medium out of the frame, these choices reveal the richness of recent work at the time, and the character with which the Gallery got into the London arts scene, ready to fight for photography’s location within it.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has created on photography and culture for over 40 international journals and journals, and kept positions as editor to get organisations including The Photographers’ Photo gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Personal Publish, Be Happy. The girl recently completed an MUM in comparative literature plus criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London

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