Flash Bang Wallop, What A Let Down…

21 May

I was not the only one expecting big things from the re-launch of The Photographers’ Gallery which has been closed for two years for a mega £9.2 million restoration programme.  The obvious ‘big’ is that the building now features a two-storey extension that doubles the size of the old gallery.  Designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, the original Victorian red-brick warehouse is linked to the modern steel extension by an external sleeve of black render, terrazzo and Angelim Pedra wood.  There is no doubt that the exterior is striking.  The design is all about the importance of linking exterior and interior with picture-perfect windows punctuating the building that provide amazing views onto surrounding Soho.

The ‘new’ Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery space itself is stunning but this is yet another slick building with no heart.  The opening exhibition mounts a selection of works by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, showcasing over thirty images from his series OIL that looks at the mechanics of the manufacture, distribution and use of this highly controversial resource.

Edward Burtynsky, Highway #5, 2009. Own photograph.

Reading Adrian Searle’s review on Guardian online I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the obnoxious comments that had been posted in response to his description of the exhibition as ‘so-so’.  In this instance, I think Searle is spot-on.  Any photography fan will have seen these works before.  Any photography fan will appreciate the visual dynamism of these works.  Any photography fan will think this is an unadventurous choice of artist.  I thought the gallery would have taken more risks.  With low-level lighting (another gallery falling going down this gloomy path), the works aren’t shown to their full potential and I’m far more excited to see the display of his works at Flowers that opens later this week.

Edward Burtynsky photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery does have some interesting features.  The Eranda studio includes its own camera obscura (offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which visitors can see by using a rotating turret in the window) plus there’s an environmentally-controlled floor which will allow the more extensive exhibition of works from archives and museum collections.  There is also The Wall on the ground floor which is part of the new digital programme – this particular display will present guest-curated projects, artist commissions and collaborative photographic work.   Currently The Wall is showing The Animated GIF, featuring over forty GIF images by practitioners from a range of creative disciplines.  The GIF was first created in 1987 and this display seeks to celebrate its history and the aesthetic qualities of this medium, looking at the wide variety of approaches using this restricted palette of 265 colours.

The Wall on the ground floor. Own photograph.

There was still a lot of snagging to do when I went round although I’m sure this would have been righted before doors opened to the public.  The stairs are rather hidden and use of the lift is being encouraged but it is so slow; make sure you’ve got ample time, not to walk around the exhibition, but to actually get up to it!

When we found the stairs…. Own photograph.

This is one of those spaces that will, no doubt, change drastically for each exhibition and I will be back for the Deutsche Börse prize in July to see if different works can spice up this attractive warehouse.  I think it’s easy to get these spaces right but, seemingly, it’s even easier to get them wrong.

Burtynsky: Oil is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1st July 2012, www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

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3 Responses to “Flash Bang Wallop, What A Let Down…”

  1. Editors May 28, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Not a review that fills me with an urge to run there to check it out. Loving Highway #5 though. No idea what they are thinking with low level lighting on photography. To me photography is all about a bit of flash bang indeed – literally – ever since its inception. – AOC

    • chloenelkin May 28, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      I completely agree. So much missed opportunity here. It’s a real shame.

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