The Centre for British Photography is now open. We look forward to welcoming you!
At the private view, James Hyman, the founding Director, spoke of his ambitions for the centre. The text of his speech is below:
I’m incredibly excited to welcome you all today. It’s wonderful to see so many people. Thank you all for coming.
I wanted to begin with some thank yous. Claire and I would like to particularly thank our fellow Trustees, Gary Blaker and Christiane Monarchi, and our group of eminent advisers. I would also like to acknowledge my wonderful team here at the centre. We only found this building in July and only signed the lease in November so it’s been ridiculously busy. I’m very grateful to our gallery manager Becky Martin and Registrar Saray Garcia for doing such an incredible job. I’m also very grateful to Tracy Marshall-Grant who has just joined us from the Royal Photographic Society. I’m excited to be working with you. Thank you also Jarelle Francis and Selin Sari who have just started with us and have plunged straight into the deep end. I’m also immensely grateful to Rebecca Ward for her amazing press campaign! We're even listed in the Guardian as one of the cultural highlights of 2023 alongside Beyonce's new album! The contractors have also done an exceptional job converting a men’s clothes shop and I hope you share the excitement that we do each time we walk in here.
When Claire and I first began collecting photographs in the 1990s we never dreamed we would be opening a Centre for British Photography. We began collecting privately. We then launched a website to make public the collection and to use it as an educational resource. This, then, led to more and more loans to museums. Then, more recently, we set up a small charity to provide grants to photographers. So it's incredible to now be opening this centre and to be able to display aspects of our collection and to be creating a research institute with a University partner that we hope to announce very soon.
We have always been struck by the fantastic quality of photography in this country… but it has sometime felt like it has been under-supported and under-appreciated nationally as well as internationally. So we hope this centre will work alongside exisiting organisations to raise its profile through its exhibitions and events and to platform and support emerging photographers as well as those who are already world renowned.
For us British photography is a short-hand, we mean photography produced in this country, and by photography we mean in all its diversity, of every variety, whether it's forms of documentary photography or work that is more conceptual. Our two opening group shows The English at Home and Headstrong exemplify the range we wish to encompass.
We are really keen that the centre should not just be a place to show our collection, but that it is also a place for others to curate shows or hold events. Headstrong is a powerful statement about what we are trying to do. We have given the main space to the advocacy group, Fast Forward: Women in Photography, to curate a show of self-portraits by women working in photography. And what they have produced celebrates the range and diversity of contemporary photography in Britain. I’m grateful to Anna Fox and her team for all their work on the show.
We are also delighted to have collaborated with Patrizia de Bello at Birkbeck College on the Jo Spence exhibition upstairs.
These partnerships and collaborations are very much how we want to work. We wish to empower others. And we welcome proposals from artists, curators and organisations about future exhibitions and events. So yes, it’s about access to our collection, but the ambitions are bigger than that.
Our collection, and these opening exhibitions, reflect our commitment to inclusion and diversity. And, as we move from being private collectors to creating a public institution, we are also looking to take on new Trustees and Advisors that reflect this diversity. We are already in conversations with other possible trustees and advisors but if you would like to help shape our programme please do get in touch.
Finally, a word on funding. Claire and I have provided the seed-funding but there is no major endowment... There are limits to what we can contribute. So, put simply, this centre will not survive long-term without outside support.
At the end of last year we were incredibly grateful to the photographers who donated works to our very successful fundraising print sale. We are also very grateful to Karen Knorr for the special fundraising print edition she has made for us which is available inthe shop. But the fact is that we need the wider support of public bodies, foundations, companies or private individuals.
I'm incredibly excited by the journey we are on, but my message to you is "join us! We can’t do it alone!" If you are in a position to help fund an exhibition, sponsor an event, support the soon to be announced grants programme, or have ideas about how to support the centre, more generally, please do talk to Tracy or myself.
And one last thing. I was asked a few times by the press today about our idea of success. For us this would be, of course, raising awareness of the photographers that we love. But it’s more than that:
Success would be to have created an independent centre or museum with a specific, dedicated mission of supporting and promoting photography in Britain.
Success would be to have set up a sustainable centre with an independent director, diverse trustees and advisors, and secure funding.
Success would be the satisfaction of having set this up and then handing it over to others to shape and run it - the joy of being able to step away, excited by the new and unexpected directions that it might take in the future.
So thank you again for coming tonight. I hope you enjoy this evening and that you will join us in shaping the future of the centre.