Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) Announces New Photographs Gallery

A permanent new gallery to show highlights from the V&A’s internationally renowned collection of photographs will open this autumn, considerably extending the space dedicated to photographs at the Museum. The gallery will launch with a display of works by key figures of photographic history including Victorian portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron and significant works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus and Irving Penn.

The gallery will chronicle the history of photography from its invention in 1839 up to the 1960s, after which developments in scale, concept and technology mark a shift in approach and appearance. The display will be re-curated every 18 months. Temporary displays, primarily showcasing contemporary photography, will be shown in the V&A’s existing photographs gallery.

A broad range of works will be displayed in the new gallery, including the oldest photograph in the V&A collection, a daguerreotype from 1839 of Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square in London. Other highlights will be an early botanical photograph created without a camera by Anna Atkins (1854); a dramatic seascape by Gustave Le Gray praised at the time for its technical and artistic accomplishment (1856); and a commanding portrait by Robert Howlett of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the chains of The Great Eastern ship (1857). Later works on display will include Curtis Moffat’s camera-less photograph of a dragonfly (about 1925) influenced by Man Ray’s pioneering style and an astonishing scientific photograph by Harold Edgerton of the coronet formed by a single milk drop falling into liquid (1957).

There will also be two ‘In Focus’ sections, each featuring a photographer represented in depth in the V&A collection. The first will be dedicated to British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who used long exposures and soft focus to create some of the most powerful portraits of the 19th century. The second will present Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, who used a small hand-held camera to capture the extraordinary in the everyday.

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