‘A larger corpse does not stop rotting’ Chris Steele-Perkins on The Photographers Gallery

A couple of days ago we responded to criticism that the photographer Chris Steele-Perkins made of London’s The Photographers Gallery, by running a poll to see whether you agreed that it’s ‘shite’.

Just to re-iterate this is not my opinion. I’ve never visited because I’m not very interested in the work they show.  But something really worries me. The fact that people feel scared to speak out.

If we can’t debate art, or uphold others right to debate it, what right do we have to curate or create it?

Some people dismissed Chris Steele-Perkins as ‘silly’. They should remember that his comments were taken out of context here on duckrabbit.   But there is a serious point. A lot of taxpayers money rightly, or wrongly is put into The Photographers Gallery and it’s entirely right the role it plays in British artistic life is up for debate. That there is so little critical analysis of Britain’s elite artistic institutions in the elite media raises important questions itself.

Chris Steele-Perkins has written to duckrabbit to clarify his point. You can read what he wrote in full below. If you care about photography, art and public funding then what is important is that this is debated and that institutions like The Photographers Gallery engage in that debate (I shall write to them).  I encourage other bloggers to continue to comment here, even better put Chris’ comments on their blogs and start a proper debate, an inclusive one and one that cannot be ignored.

I am delighted my comments, made in passing, have evoked a lively response. I stand by my remarks of course, but for the sake of clarity I outline my position in a bit more detail.

I was around when the Photographers’ Gallery was started by Sue Davies, and it was exciting and showed, mainly, great shows and inspired people. It had a buzz!

A lot has changed. When I talk to people, from photographers to others in the arts I never, really, never find one who has a good thing to say about the Photographers. Gallery. The response is from a disdainful shrug – that’s what we are stuck with, to an explosion of anger that the promise and hope that Sue Davies brought to the place has been so profoundly betrayed.

I care about photography, in its richness and complexity and I am angry at the way the possibility of the Photographers’ Gallery has been strangled over the years leaving a limp corpse requiring vast funding from the public purse to maintain its mediocrity.

I am angry that there are many more exciting, relevant galleries that are starved of funding because the money goes into maintaining this vegetative-state-gallery. Places like Side, Host, Open-Eye to name but a few.

I am angry that Photographers’ Gallery has become a misnomer. It is not about photography or photographers, it is about a narrow thread of photographic curation that is frequently dull, and/or poorly conceived. I also admit they do have a few good shows, but far too few, and across far too narrow a spectrum of the medium

On the web-site it states “we are the place to see photography in all its forms.” This is a grotesque claim and so patently untrue. Why lie? If it indeed was fulfilling that claim, with the caveat – at its best – then it could claim the name Photographers’ Gallery, and it would not be betraying the initial ambitions of the project.

I am angry it makes no attempt to support or promote British photography

Someday I will write more about this, but I am sorry that the quality and relevance of the PG is not publicly debated in forums like the BJP and RPS Journal, and the Guardian Arts Page and the national media. This is a publicly funded institution (40%) and should be a beacon, but is an irrelevance; an expensive one.

People seem to be scared to speak out, I am not sure why. One thing is for sure, more money is going into it, and it will get bigger, and a larger corpse does not stop rotting.

I leave you with this from their web-site “the Gallery has developed a reputation as the UK’s primary venue for contemporary photography.” So sad, so untrue.


Debate already going on at the ever brilliant Sojourne Posse


Photographer Marcus Doyle (who has an EXCELLENT BLOG) follows up here

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Chris Steele-Perkins’ reply to Sojournposse’s transcript of his talk: “Thank you all. I added a comment to Duckrabbit. I’d like to keep the momentum going and put some real pressure, from the grassroots, onto the Photographers’ Gallery as there is a huge, mostly silent, audience out there that thinks like me about their failures.” btw he said a lot more at the talk, especially about creative process on his book England, My England. http://www.sojournposse.com/?p=1775

  2. Jez Sullivan says:

    Nail on head, I think, perhaps its such a powerful institution that people are scared to be critical? Its just full of poseurs whenever I go there, arthouse poseurs in red shoes and silly shirts and/or impossibly small Japanese girls with giant Nikon D3X’s. The last good show I saw there was Tarin Simons American Index, but the current Sally Mann show is flannell, a superstar photographer treading water in my humble opinion.

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