The Photographers’ Gallery at 16- 18 Ramillies Street 2012. © Kate Elliott. Artist's Impression of exterior signage to be completed mid May. Created by North. London's largest public gallery dedicated to photography has just got larger. The Photographers’ Gallery
opens its doors to the public again this Saturday in its Ramillies Street home – around the corner from Oxford Circus – after a major renovation project by acclaimed Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey that includes a two-storey extension.
The exhibition spaces on the fourth and fifth floors have higher ceilings and great adaptability, allowing the gallery to now feature photographers who print at a large scale or project moving imagery – an ambition sometimes thwarted by the dimensions of the previous exhibition spaces. Their exterior is clad in a night-black render whose tone complements the red bricks of the Victorian warehouse that form the structure of the floors below.
The footprint of each floor remains fairly small, meaning single shows will often spread across both floors. For the opening exhibition,
Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky presents his dramatic, beautifully composed large prints on the circumstances and consequences of oil production; the visitor starts on the fifth floor, viewing images about both the refinement of oil and its use in society, before heading downstairs to see a section titled ‘The End of Oil’ that documents the epic waste and environmental degradation as a result of the oil industry.
Installation image of Burtynsky: OIL by Edward Burtynsky on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1 July 2012. The Photographers’ Gallery. Barbara Lloyd Galleries (4th Floor) 2012 © Dennis Gilbert.
The third floor is a dedicated space for education, which features a camera obscura – a lovely introduction to the fundamentals of the medium – as well as an area where visitors are urged to write about a single work on display, currently a surreal lightbox piece by Burtynsky’s compatriot Jeff Wall.
Another flight of stairs down takes you to a second exhibition space, currently hosting two works by the multi-disciplinary New Dehli group Raqs Media Collective, whose practice spans sculpture, video and print photography as well as publishing and curation. The two spaces created by the renovation project means that the gallery’s programmers now can simultaneously shine a light on both this and more orthodox forms of photography. The basement houses the gallery’s bookshop and a print sales studio that presents limited editions by vintage, modern and contemporary artists.
Raqs Media Collective, 'An Afternoon Unregistered on the Richter Scale', 2011. Video projection of treated and animated archival photograph. 3' 35", loop, silent © Raqs Media Collective. Courtesy the artist / Frith Street Gallery.
The new and existing floors greatly benefit from floor-to-ceiling apertures, allowing natural light in and a window out on nearby streets. The space is geographically in Soho – the heart and soul of the city – and West End wanderers might miss the discreet alley next to Boots on Oxford Street that is the most direct access way to the gallery. With its visitor experience enhanced, it will be interesting to see whether the Photographers’ Gallery becomes an established stop on the tourist trail or to the joy of its existing audience it remains a hidden gem.
- The Photographer's Gallery new building opens 19 May 2012. 'Burtynsky: OIL' is open 19 May – 1 July 2012.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine