Monday, 21 May 2012

The New Photographers' Gallery

The Photographers' Gallery opened up in its new building in London's Ramillies Street on Saturday so I thought I'd go along and see what's what. They had previously moved in a year or so back and then closed down, at least partly because of accessibility issues. When I wrote to them about this, they wrote back promising a new lift. They kept their promise.

There are currently two exhibitions showing. The first is on floor 2, the Wolfson Gallery (there are 5 floors in total) and is by the Raqs Media Collective. A still photo fades in of workers sitting in an office and, after a while, the blades of the ceiling fan start to rotate. A short time later, the photo fades to black. Rinse and repeat throughout the entire day. This is the kind of thing they used to do at the old building. The kind of thing that used to have me walking out after a few minutes muttering, "Art is whatever you can get away with". I was surprised how long some people stood watching this display, especially since there were no chairs in the room.

The second exhibition is on floors 4 and 5, is by Edward Burtinsky and is titledThe End of Oil. I didn't count how many photos are in this one but even considering that they are large, there are enough to keep you occupied for quite a while. When I say that the photos are large, I'm guessing that they are about 4 feet wide. And they're very detailed, and processed as HDR. Don't let that put you off as they are HDR done properly: lots of detail in the highlights and shadows, and with fantastic tone and colour.

I should warn you that you might spend quite a while studying the astonishing amount of detail the photographer has managed to capture and to bring out in post-processing. You might also learn something about the extraction and refinement of oil, before it disappears forever. As usual, technical notes on the cameras, lenses and settings used are not given, but no matter. This is definitely one to go and see.

There are other features of the new Gallery that make it worth a visit. On floor 3 is the Eranda Studio where you will find a camera obscura which, for some reason, wasn't open on the first day. On this floor, you can also see and take part in a project called Touchstone, where you are invited to study one particular photo and write your own observations and responses to it on a card which you drop into a box. Each week the Gallery's favourite response is featured, and more contributions posted on the website. Also on floor 3 is a small study room to which you gain access by appointment.

To round off the tour, floor 1 contains the admin offices, while on the ground floor is the cafe and information desk. The bookshop and print sales room are in the basement.

I found the bookshop to be rather cramped but on opening day this is perhaps only to be expected. Its contents are very much as they were back in the old Gallery at Great Newport Street. The focus of the books is still very much on the photo as art; there are few technical books and how-tos. As before, they sell a nice range of photo postcards but you could have trouble getting to the till if its as crowded as when I visited. Aficionados of lo-fi photography will be pleased to know that the stock of Polaroid, Lomo, and other assorted old and new cameras also made the move.

The Photographers' Gallery is at 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW. Phone 020 7087 9300. Email, website
Open seven days a week:

Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday 10.00 – 20.00
Sunday 11.30 – 18.00

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