words Johanna Agerman
It was a mad rush to get it ready on time and the smell of paint still lingers in the air, but at the weekend the Photographers’ Gallery in London opened at its new location in Soho.
A five-storey Edwardian warehouse on Ramillies Street now houses two floors for the gallery’s temporary exhibitions, a huge improvement on its previous space on the other side of Soho. “This is the first time ever that we have a dedicated exhibition space that doesn’t need to share its purpose with a cafe or bookshop,” says director Brett Rogers. The other floors contain offices, a print sale gallery, a cafe designed by André Klauser and Ed Carpenter and a bookshop.
But the new location is just a stepping stone towards the real goal: a purpose-built gallery by Irish architect O’Donnell & Tuomey. The new, eight-storey building, partly submerged below ground level, will replace the existing warehouse, with construction due to commence in two years’ time and another opening date set 18 months after that.
In the meantime Rogers sees it as the gallery’s job to turn around the reputation of the dingy alley it is now located in. “We want to transform the street from urine alley to photographers’ alley,” says Rogers. Westminster council is backing their initiative with plans to make the street pedestrian and increase the number of streetlights as well as adding benches for weary shoppers from Oxford Street. Some of which form part of the gallery’s expanded audience: 30,000 people pass by every Saturday on Oxford Street. “Hopefully some of them will make it into the gallery,” says Rogers.
The opening exhibitions are Katy Grannan: The Westerns and Soho Nights, which chronicle bohemians from the west coast of America and 1950s London respectively.
The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1