There’s an article in today’s Observer entitled “Britain’s photographic revolution“, which, as it only mentions the work of large institutions based in London, should be entitled either “London discovers photography” or “London ratifies photography”. I’m surprised by the multiple shortcomings by the usually lucid Sean O’Hagan.
In the piece Sean describes how large London institutions have (quite late) embraced photography: V&A have opened a photography room, the Tate has a photography curator, the currently closed Photographers’ Gallery is being refurbished into a larger space, some commercial art galleries sell photography. As Foto8’s twitter commented: “Bravo! Tate appoints photo dir, Frieze sells more photos, TPG gets funding to renovate…”Britain discovers photography”!”
This might be all good for a London tube-riding commuter who can go to bed sleeping at ease with the knowledge that London is again riding the first wave of art. They will also go to bed without knowing anything about the photographic scene of the whole of Britain, which includes a good number of galleries, museums that display photography, festivals and more. Hereford Photography Festival has been going for a few decades, the Brighton Biennial is a major event, Photoworks has been publishing work for years, Side Gallery, Ffotogallery and Open Eye (who are expanding) all came to existence in the 70’s bringing the first, patchy, almost UK-wide interest in photography in public display. Ignoring this heritage is pretty much insulting and I’m missing most of it (festivals in Belfast, galleries in Edinburgh, etc.).
Also, this article completely ignores the influence of… well, you! Revolutions are not led by large institutions in five year plans. The appointment of photography curators is the result of a photography revolution taking place elsewhere, not the leading factor in one. Increased interest on the internet, the odd big exhibition that does very well, the explosion in photobooks published, etc. Ignoring this fact is ignoring your influence as a reader, and whatever futher influence you might have by being/becoming a publisher, photographer, critic, gallerist, whatever. Revolutions are jerky, sudden, and spread. They have to be simple enough for any to embrace and become a player. What this article describes is not a revolution, but the final ratification of photography in London.
Rant from my dining room over, and off to the National Museum of Wales to check on the photography collection.