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Photographer's Gallery Relocates

After 37 years, the Photographer's Gallery moves to a bigger location with an exhibition by Katy Grannan to launch the new space.

The Photographer’s Gallery has moved out of its home on Great Newport Street after 37 years and countless genre-busting exhibitions from the leading practitioners of the craft. From Juergen Teller to Andreas Gursky, the gallery has championed a diverse and dynamic range of photographers spanning fashion, art and photojournalism.

As the paint dries on its expansive Ramillies Street site, Dazed Digital caught up with the Gallery’s director, Brett Rogers and photographer Katy Grannan, whose series The Westerns launches the new space.

Dazed Digital: What was behind the decision to relocate?
Brett Rogers: The move is part of a long term plan to significantly reshape the Photographer’s Gallery by 2011. We purchased this new site a few years ago with help from the Arts Council and our plan is to knock the current space down and rebuild from the ground up once we reach our fundraising target. Until then we’re using the refurbished building to develop and draw fresh audiences to our new location just off Oxford Street.

DD: How did you come to work with architects O’Donnell + Tuomey on the new building?
BR: The area we’ve moved to houses two Future Systems renovations so we wanted to build on the reputation for radical architecture that Ramillies Street is developing. Following an international competition back in 2006 we selected O’Donnell + Tuomey because we felt they understood the brief to create a welcoming social and intellectual hub in the heart of Soho. We were very impressed by their achievements working on the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at the University of Cork – their handling of space, response to place and sensitivity to materials.

DD: What should visitors expect from the temporary space then?
BR: We’re still working with two spaces – a smaller gallery on the ground floor which is complimented by a larger exhibition area upstairs. And of course there’s the bookshop, café and print sales. The programme of talks and events that we established at Great Newport Street will continue. My intention over the past few years has been to build on the Gallery’s legacy of bringing the most exciting and interesting photography to public attention and to ensure that we can realize our vision of being the authoritative eyes, ears and voice for photography in the UK. Our interim space is a major milestone in our future delivery of that vision. I am excited that we will also be continuing our commitment to exploring fashion photography with our 2009 summer show which will focus on the little explored area of male fashion. In addition we’ll be showing a new video piece by Jordan Baseman.

DD: You’ve chosen to launch the new site with a major exhibition by American photographer Katy Grannan. What attracted you to her work?
BR: Katy’s work struck me as being very unique - there’s something extremely robust and rigorous yet at the same time tender and human in her approach to subjects. We’re delighted to be launching the new space with The Westerns as it’s the first showing of her stunning new project in a UK venue.

DD: Katy, the subjects you’ve picked for this photoseries are particularly striking – from the androgynous Nicole to subtle beauty of transsexuals Gail and Dale. How did you meet them?
Katy Grannan: I think I met Gail first, at a drag show in Dolores Park in San Francisco.  She stood a good head above the crowd and as soon as I saw her, I just walked over and said hello.  She was, and is, an incredibly open and optimistic person, and she was immediately enthusiastic about the idea of making photographs together.  Gail and I soon became very close, and she later introduced me to her best friend, Dale.

I met Nicole under different circumstances, while I was in downtown San Francisco.  In fact I had just left Fraenkel Gallery one morning and was walking across the street when I saw Nicole standing alone.  From afar, I couldn’t really tell if she was a man or a woman, or whether she was ending a long night or beginning her day. She was well dressed, but makeup ran down her face and she was a little dishevelled.  The crowd moved around her while she just stood there.  Anyway, I was intrigued and so I walked up to her and introduced myself.  

DD: The show obviously grew out of your move to the West Coast – can you talk a bit about the evolution of the series and the themes you’re exploring?
KG: I work in a fairly organic way, meaning I’m not out to illustrate an idea or to create a photograph that I have pre-visualized.  I tend to begin with broad strokes and find my way as I go along. I’m certain my own biography is intrinsic to the work, but I was less interested in exploring this overtly as I was in recognizing that we are all constructing identities and shaping narratives. Some of us just do this in a more explicit, colourful manner.

The American West is such a rich symbol of individualism and reinvention, both in popular culture and historical fact.  The landscape alone is overwhelming and vast – you can’t help but feel inspired.  Trouble is, many aren’t so lucky out there, and the landscape, the sun, all of it - become brutal reminders of our failures. The fact is that there are a lot of problems in paradise, and the sun is still there, illuminating all of it.

DD: There seems to be a certain preoccupation with sexual identity in The Westerns.
KG: There is a new “normal” in northern California, in particular, and a long tradition of sexual freedom and diversity.  When I moved to San Francisco, my neighbour used to put out his trash on Monday mornings dressed in drag, and I’d often see an S&M couple in Dolores Park, role playing nearly nude as horse and driver.  (What ever you’re into, it is there for you.) Gail, in particular, sees a lot of her life as a performance, and she takes great pride in her appearance – she’ll go to the deli dressed in a maid’s uniform, just for kicks.  She knows people are staring at her anyway, so why not give them something extra special to look at?  She has a wonderful spirit.

The Photographer’s Gallery is now open 16-18 Ramillies Street, London, W1F 7LW.
The Westerns runs until 8th February.