The V&A’s new photography centre will open on 12 October, with newly-acquired photographs by Linda McCartney, a newly-commissioned series by Thomas Ruff, and an inaugural display tracing the history of photography through the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection. The new facility will more than double the V&A’s current photography exhibition space, and follows the transfer of over 270,000 photographs, 26,000 publications and 6000 pieces of equipment from the RPS collection formerly held in the National Media Museum in Bradford – a controversial transfer, described at the time as “an appalling act of cultural vandalism” by Simon Cooke, the leader of the Conservative opposition on Bradford council. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said that the transfer had “provided the catalyst for this dramatic reimagining of photography at the V&A” however, and that the new centre will “seamlessly span the entire history of photography….from daguerreotype to digital”. He added that the V&A is particularly well-placed to tell this story given its long engagement with photography – it was one of the first museums to put together a photographic exhibition, partly because its founder, Henry Cole, was a keen amateur photographer.
She stands on a San Francisco rooftop looking out over the South of Market neighbourhood – the area that was the subject and title of her sumptuous 2013 book, published by MACK Books, which led to her solo show at the city’s prestigious De Young Museum. Thousands have now seen the series, but Janet Delaney shot it in the early 1980s, just as the district was being primed for redevelopment and gentrification. Now middle-aged, as a young woman Delaney was fiercely committed to the idea that photography could and should change the world. Thinking of herself as a “cultural worker”, she hoped her project would advocate for the working class people and businesses who had helped make the area so vibrant, and help stop them from being displaced.
“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes photographer and prolific writer on his craft, Luigi Ghirri in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale. Trained as a surveyor, the iconography of maps and atlases prevail Ghirri’s photography. “But what if you map his work?” asks curator James Lingwood. “He was, in a way, mapping the changing topography of modern life in Europe in the 1970s and also the change in the relationship between people and images.”
Nigel Shafran first came to fame in 1990 with a series of images published by i-D; showing teenage shoppers in a down-at-heel precinct in Ilford, it was the antithesis of a high-end fashion shoot. His first venture into publishing, Ruthbook, had a similarly pared-down approach; showing his girlfriend shot mostly at home, in her dressing gown, say, or blowing her nose, alongside details such as crumbs on a kitchen work surface, a pot on the stove, or a hair stuck on a bar of soap. Shafran hand-wrote the title, in pencil, on all 600 copies. Now he’s found a new twist on this everyday approach, putting his work books on show. Dating from 1984 right up to 2018 they’re a creative insight into his working process and life, and a typically understated collection – though it’s the inaugural exhibition at Sion and Moore, the gallery run by Claire de Rouen’s Lucy Moore in the space that used to house Wolfgang Tillmans’ studio.
Interviewing Nigel Shafran is a circuitous, informal affair. Meeting him at his North London home, I immediately recognise Ruth, his partner and the subject of many of his photographs. I also meet his son Lev, who, though somewhat older, is also still easily discernible from his father’s pictures. The interview takes place in the kitchen familiar from Flowers for ____. Every now and then a friend calls round or phones, with plans made to throw a boomerang around in the park that afternoon, or play ping pong in the evening. Lev occasionally interjects from the living room with his take on the interview process, or on “nattering on about photography” as he puts it. “Sorry. Oh my God!” says Shafran, as the phone rings for the second time. “No worries,” I say. “You’re a busy man.” “A busy family man!” he replies. It doesn’t always make for an easy interview, but it feels appropriate for a photographer who focuses on the everyday, the domestic and the personal.
“Tish believed that photography was an important form of visual communication that could stimulate discussions about real life situations and captured accurate records of the world we live in. She was trying to force people to look at the truth and learn from it,” explains Ella Murtha, the daughter of the documentary photographer. In honour of her mother’s memory, Ella has put together a new photobook, Youth Unemployment, which gathers Tish Murtha’s work photographing poverty-ridden communities in Newcastle in the 70s and 80s. Raw, powerful and emotional, Murtha has captured youngsters trying to survive turbulent economic times, when they had limited prospects – something which has recently come full circle as a new generation has had to deal with the global financial crisis.
“One could easily say there’s nothing to photograph there, because it’s just like any other park,” says Latvian photographer Arnis Balcus of Victory Park. Situated in the Latvian capital Riga, Victory Park [‘Uzvaras Park’ in Latvian] was officially opened in 1910, in the presence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Mayor of Riga. But, as Balcus explains, “it is a park with a complex history”. First built to commemorate Latvian independence, the park was given its current name after the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in WWII, and as such “embodies the historical trauma of a small Baltic nation”, says Balcus. It’s famous for its Victory Monument which, at 79m high, looms over Riga’s skyline and provides a daily reminder of the controversial issue it signifies.
“I was asked to photograph a concert for one of the bands, and from the get-go I was visualising a book,” says Icelandic photographer and musician Verði ljós. “Black metal bands have a really strong look. It’s like its own aesthetic world.” His book Svartmálmur is a portrait of Iceland’s thriving black metal scene, designed to take the reader on a journey akin to listening to an album. ljós is also known as Hafsteinn Viðar Ársælsson, founder of solo black metal project Wormlust, and was able to give an insider’s insight into the genre – which though celebrated overseas, is often overlooked back home. “The only [local] media that ever mentions its existence is a Reykjavik tourist magazine not even aimed at the natives,” he says. “It’s partly why I wanted to document us. The scene is singularly important culturally and I’m proud that I was the one to photograph it.” Familiar with the “awkward dance macabre between the band and the photographer” from both sides of the lens, ljós was keen to show off …
“I used to describe myself as a photojournalist, and was very proud of it,” wrote Abbas in 2017. “The choice was to think of oneself either as a photojournalist or an artist. It wasn’t out of humility that I called myself a photojournalist, but arrogance. I thought photojournalism was superior, but these days I don’t call myself a photojournalist because, although I use the techniques of a photojournalist and get published in magazines and newspapers, I am working at things in depth and over long periods of time. I don’t just make stories about what’s happening. I’m making stories about my way of seeing what’s happening.” Abbas has been described as a “born photographer”, who over his 60-year career covered war and revolution in Vietnam, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Biafra, Chile, Cuba, Apartheid South Africa, and Northern Ireland. He also pursued a lifelong interest in religion in his work, shooting in 29 countries to create the book and exhibition Allah O Akbar: A Journey Through Militant Islam, and publishing long-term series on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and animism.
“It was before mobile phones, before the internet. It was the initial form of mass communication, a way you could chat to your friends for free. I remember lots of people in Suffolk got a CB radio and thought they were in the Dukes of Hazzard,” says David Titlow, whose latest photobook is a collection of portraits that bring together CB users and their Eyeball cards, their would-be business cards promoting their radio personality.