V&A’s new photo centre opens on 12 October

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The V&A’s new photography centre will open on 12 October, with a newly-commissioned series by Thomas Ruff, newly-acquired photographs by Linda McCartney, and an inaugural display tracing the history of photography through the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection.

The new facility will more than double the V&A’s current photography exhibition space, and follows the transfer of over 270,000 photographs, 26,000 publications and 6000 pieces of equipment from the RPS collection formerly held in the National Media Museum in Bradford – a controversial transfer, described at the time as “an appalling act of cultural vandalism” by Simon Cooke, the leader of the Conservative opposition on Bradford council.

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said that the transfer had “provided the catalyst for this dramatic reimagining of photography at the V&A” however, and that the new centre will “seamlessly span the entire history of photography….from daguerreotype to digital”. He added that the V&A is particularly well-placed to tell this story given its long engagement with photography – it was one of the first museums to put together a photographic exhibition, partly because its founder, Henry Cole, was a keen amateur photographer.

V&A Photography Centre – Render of Gallery 99 © David Kohn Architects
V&A Photography Centre – Render of the ‘Dark Tent’ © David Kohn Architects

The RPS show will feature work from the 19th century to the present day, including prints and negatives by pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Frederick Scott Archer as well as camera equipment and photographic publications. The final display, said the V&A’s senior curator of photographs Martin Barnes, will be full of “treasures waiting to be discovered”.

The Thomas Ruff commission also has an historical element, with renowned German photographer asked to create new work inspired by Linnaeus Tripe’s 1850s paper negatives of India and Burma, which are held in the V&A collection. According to Barnes, the commission “signals that we want to use the historical collections and the wider collection of the museum to inspire new work”.

The Linda McCartney images have been gifted to the V&A by Sir Paul McCartney, and include intimate portraits of musical legends such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. The collection comprises 63 images in total, tracing the photographer’s career across four decades between 1960s and 1990s.

“It’s hard to look at the pictures without the name in mind, but that was what we were trying to do with the curators at the archive,” said Barnes. “I think she had a real eye for capturing the unguarded and unstaged moment.”

The V&A plans to run events and activities in the new centre, which is designed by David Kohn Architects and will continue to expand the facility. Phase Two of the launch, which is due to open in 2022, will see the museum add more gallery space, and create a teaching and research facility, a browsing library, and a studio and darkroom, which will enable photographers’ residencies.


V&A Photography Centre – Render of The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery and Gallery 101 © David Kohn Architects
Gustave Le Gray (1820-84). Seascape, 1856-59. Albumen print © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Roger Fenton (1819-69). Still Life with Fruit and Decanter, 1860. Albumen print © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
William Carrick (1827-78). Cartes-de-visite album of Russian tradespeople, about 1860. Albumen prints © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) Animal Locomotion, Plate 788, Camel trotting Albumen print, 1887 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Ernest Payne. Album of X-Ray Photographs, 1896. Albumen print © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Newton & Co. /Mount Everest Committee. Photographers: Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury, George Herbert Leigh Mallory, Sandy Wollaston. 1922 expedition to summit Mount Everest. Slide 136: The highest photograph ever taken, 1922. Lantern Slide © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Frederick William Bond. Contents of an Ostrich’s Stomach c.1930. Bromide print © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Mark Cohen (b.1943). One red glove, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1975. Dye-transfer print. Part of a portfolio containing 30 prints which will be mounted and framed separately © Mark Cohen/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Sian Bonnell. Beach Clean, 1999. C-type print © Sian Bonnell/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Hiroshi Sugimoto (b.1948). From the series Lightning Fields 2009 © Hiroshi Sugimoto
Kodak No. 2A Beau Brownie (blue), 1930-33. Camera © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
William Henry Fox Talbot’s mousetrap camera, about 1835 © The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.