V&A Zooms In On Photography In These Fantastic Free New Galleries

Photography Gallery, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 20 months ago

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V&A Zooms In On Photography In These Fantastic Free New Galleries Photography Gallery, V&A 4
The superb entrance to the galleries. Copyright Will Pryce.

We're greeted by two full height vitrines full of cameras ranging from small compacts to those so large, it would be a serious chore to carry them around. These two 'camera walls' stand sentry on either side of the entrance to the V&A's newly refurbished photography galleries, and they make quite the welcome.

Outside, there's the chance to get hands on with a Polaroid camera, a 35mm and a large format — the kind where you have to pull a black cloth over your head before a photo is taken. It's a great nostalgia trip but it's also a reminder that as more of us switch to phones as our primary camera the actual, physicality of cameras may soon become just a memory to many of us.

Inside the section on photographic history. Copyright Will Pryce.

This is all before we step foot into the fabulous refurbished galleries that have doubled in size and been arranged to give us a history of the art of capturing images.  Some of the older photos are superb including a crowd gawping at the first hippo they've ever seen at London Zoo — it was kept at the zoo after it was gifted to Queen Victoria.

A bizarre favourite of ours is German entertainer Ernst Schulz's miniature expressions. He asked people to dress up and recreate emotions for the camera, including 'hypocrisy' and 'Sunday afternoon'. If those sound hard to capture, he also photographed 'pious old maid' and 'choleric'.

The contemporary side has some gems but some misses too. Copyright Will Pryce.

Other gems include stereoscopic images viewed through pairs of lenses, and a very early form of 3D technology. The historic photography collection here is superb and it's only a tiny sliver of what the V&A has in store.

The next gallery is largely dedicated to contemporary photography, and this is where it can be bit more hit and miss. Thomas Ruff has taken the old photos by Captain Linnaeus Tripe from Tripe's travels in India and Burma and made them larger with subtle alterations. So subtle, in fact, that we really struggled to see what Ruff had added.

It's great to check out the stereoscopic images. Copyright Will Pryce.

However, there are some superb additions like the series by Jan Kempenaers of hulking concrete monuments in the former Yugoslavia. The monuments are so jarring it looks as if they may have fallen from outer space or emerged from the ground below.

We're massive fans of this refurb and as the photography galleries are in a slightly odd and hard to find location, we're hoping this will draw new crowds. Even better news is that V&A plans to extend these galleries further by 2022 so there'll be even more space for photography at the museum. For now, go enjoy what they've done with the place and focus in on some spectacular images.  

The New Photography Centre at V&A is part of the permanent collection and therefore free to visit. It opens on 12 October 2018.

Last Updated 11 October 2018

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