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For art photographers only?
The Photographers' Gallery (London)
Member Name: ermintrude
The Photographers' Gallery (London)
Date: 13/02/01, updated on 13/02/01 (104 review reads)
Advantages: free; convenient location; small size means it won't take all day to see; nice cafe
Disadvantages: some parts too small; exhibitions may not be to everyone's taste
The Photographers' Gallery, just by Leicester Square, is a small, simple venue which tends to host "cutting edge" photographic exhibitions. I've only seen one display there, the Citibank Photography Prize nominations, but if that's typical of what they show, then I won't be eagerly awaiting every new installation. (As it was only a temporary exhibition, I won't review it here, suffice to say that I came out a mere 35 minutes after going in, and in no better state of enlightenment about the photographers or their subjects.) However, the small size of the gallery, and its central location, means that it would be possible to just nip in and see what's there without it eating up half your day, just on the offchance that it's interesting.
As it's free to enter, there is no cashier, and at one of the two addresses (it's at numbers 5 and 8 of the same street), you're straight into exhibition space as soon as you're through the door, with no kind of introduction or description. There is an information desk at number 5, but it was empty all the time I was in that building, and I couldn't see any obvious exhibition guide leaflets or anything like that. This led me to feel a bit like I'd been thrown in at the deep end, and if I hadn't read a few newspaper reviews of the exhibition beforehand, I'd have been totally in the dark about what to expect. Approaches like this, where you're just left to draw your own conclusions about pieces of art, can, I think, put many people off - they want at least some idea of context, some framework in which to place what they're being shown. Of course, this lack of information may not exist for all exhibitions held there, but to be honest I wouldn't be surprised.
Number 5 Great Newport Street consists of a small lobby, a tiny upstairs room for "print sales", a narrow corridor, and a high-ceilinged cafe at the rear, all of which show ima
ges on the wall, although there is often insufficient space to stand and look at them properly without getting in someone's way, especially in to corridor. All the rooms have the typical art gallery decor - white walls and spotlights - and feel somewhat cold and unwelcoming. The cafe looked very nice, although we didn't stop there, and had quite reasonable prices (for London) on coffee, fruit juices (including cranberry and grapefruit, which looked gorgeous) and cakes and pastries. Seating was on large wooden tables with long benches, and a few people were sitting around writing notes or reading. We also checked out the print sales, but were not inspired, with incomprehensible modern art prints selling for £400 + VAT and framing.
Number 8 Great Newport Street is perhaps a little larger, with three linked rooms offering more space to circulate than number 5. A tiny bookshop off to one side offers a good, if expensive, range of arty-photographic books, including monographs and theory books, as well as a surprisingly kitsch range of photographic calendars and postcards (a bit pricey at 60p each). I did pick up a half-price calendar featuring Ansel Adams' 1930s landscape photos, so they are not limited purely to the "cutting edge".
Overall, this seems to be a gallery for the art community, or students of photography as art, rather than amateur photographers looking for inspiration. It's worth checking, on the offchance that something might be on which really interests you, but I wouldn't visit London purely to go there.
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