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Victoria and Albert Museum Launches Photography Centre

Those who remember the Royal Photographic Society’s Octagon Gallery in Bath may experience a feeling of déjà vu when entering new galleries dedicated to the medium at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Triumphal columns of antiquarian cameras frame the new exhibition space entrance where the V&A have successfully managed to capture something of the Octagon atmosphere. Engaging work that covers the medium’s development from Fox Talbot paper negatives and Daguerreotypes through early colour into the modern age with a digital media area. The V&A collection, that now holds some 800, 000 images, began in 1852; the opening theme appropriately titled Collecting Photography: From the Daguerreotype to Digital illustrates the technical and aesthetic development of the medium and interprets the photography’s dual appeal as an acquirable art form and a method of capturing the world. Alongside historic images The Modern Media Gallery is framed to review latest acquisitions and show screen based work on a ‘Light Wall’, while the ‘Dark Tent’ delivers a projection space for lectures and multimedia work. It is intended for this area to regularly evolve with new displays and commissions; German conceptual photographer Thomas Ruff and American artist Penelope Umbrico bring an international flavour having been asked to engage with work from the museum for a launch commission. Using digital methods Ruff reinterpreted Linus Tripe’s images of India and Burma from the original 1850s paper negatives to produce haunting and atmospheric large-scale photographs. Umbrico studied the online V&A painting collection selecting cloud detail; the resulting video investigates the relationship between passing moments made real with paint then translated through digital code onto screen and is the first work shown on the ‘Light Wall’. This is the first phase of development with darkroom and studio facilities, a dedicated library and study and two learning and event spaces in the forward plan for 2022. While it is sad in some ways that visual outposts away from London and the south east have disappeared over the last few years leading to less democratic access to photography and to some extend wider visual media; however this is an exciting initiative from the V&A that should offer more than just the some of its parts with opportunities for physical practical engagement, education and networking and is well worth supporting.

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