Photography Centre

The Photography Centre at V&A South Kensington hosts a world-leading programme of displays, events and research. It celebrates the V&A's photography collection, one of the largest and most important in the world.

Opens 25 May 2023

Across seven galleries, the centre showcases objects from the beginnings of photography to the present day. From pioneering historical techniques to dynamic contemporary practices, the Photography Centre is a place to discover photography's many histories and explore its extensive impact on our lives.

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Visit

Visit the Photography Centre to see Energy: Sparks from the Collection, a display exploring the theme of energy in photography from the 1840s to today. There are three rooms dedicated to contemporary practices from around the world, Photography Now and the Digital Gallery. Photography and the Book is an impressive space that visibly stores the Royal Photographic Society Library alongside temporary displays, including How not to Photograph a Bulldog – there is also a selection of photobooks to pick up and read. Finally, step Inside the Camera to experience an interactive timeline of cameras, from a walk-in camera obscura to the first iPhone.

A youth dances in a garden while being watched by a child
Untitled [Young teenage boy who, just arrived from Jamaica, shows off his latest reggae dance with his younger brother watching, Brixton Hill], gelatin silver print, by Neil Kenlock, photographed 1968, printed 2011, London, England. Museum no. E.220-2012. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Collection

The V&A photography collection is one of the oldest and most significant in the world. The V&A was the first museum to collect photographs, beginning in the 1850s. In 2017, the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection was transferred to the V&A, considerably expanding an already vast collection. Today, the collection is international in scope and comprises over a million objects related to the history of photography, including photographs, negatives, cameras, technical equipment, books, periodicals, and archival material. The V&A maintains an active programme of photography acquisitions, generously supported by the Photographs Acquisition Group alongside artists and other donors.

You can access the photography collection online through Explore the Collections and in person through the Prints & Drawings Study Room. Photographic books are held by the National Art Library (NAL) and are discoverable through the NAL catalogue. The RPS Collection and RPS Library are available to access alongside the rest of the collection.

Four fish lying on leaves
'Four Trout', autochrome, by Baron Adolph de Meyer, 1909, England. Museum no. RPS.559-2020. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To learn more about the photography collection and how to use these resources, visit our YouTube channel.

Research

The Photography Centre is a rich resource for research. Individual researchers interested in photography can visit the Prints & Drawings Study Room or make an online enquiry to contact our curators. Collections research is complemented by the work of the V&A Conservation department, which preserves, conserves, investigates, and facilitates the display of V&A objects. Together, we help to safeguard and build knowledge about our collections for future generations.

The V&A Research Institute is a leader in its field and supports post-graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral research related to the museum's collections. Through the generosity of philanthropic donations and grant funding, photography research at the V&A is thriving. The Curatorial Fellowship in Photography, supported by The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation, facilitates in-depth research into under-recognised aspects of the photography collection. If you are interested in supporting photography research at the V&A, please email development@vam.ac.uk

Still life showing a partially full decanter and a fruitbowl
Decanter and fruit, albumen print, by Roger Fenton, 1853 – 60, London, England. Museum no. RPS.2445-2018. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Programme

The V&A is committed to promoting equality in all its forms. In 2022, with support from Ms. Ruth Monicka Parasol and The Parasol Foundation Trust, the V&A launched The Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project and appointed the inaugural Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography. This ambitious new curatorial programme is dedicated to supporting women artists through wide-ranging activities including acquisitions, research, education, displays and public events. You can follow the latest updates from the Parasol project on Instagram: @vamparasolwomenphoto.

The V&A is also committed to supporting artists through a commissioning programme made possible by generous support from the Manitou Foundation. The first Manitou commissions by Gauri Gill and Jake Elwes are at the heart of the Photography Centre's inaugural displays (2023) and will be on view until 2024. For more details, please see What's On.

Photograph of a woman decorated with embroidery
'Sans Titre 5' from the series Ça va aller, by Joana Choumali, 2019, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Museum no. PH.93-2022. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Beyond the Photography Centre, photography features in exhibitions and displays throughout the museum, and touring V&A exhibitions share the photography collection through partner institutions in the UK and overseas. The V&A's learning programme offers a variety of opportunities to engage with photography, from free family activities to adult courses, workshops and study days offered by V&A Academy.

Blog

Visit our blog to keep up to date with the latest Photography Centre news and discover more about our collections, displays and research projects.

Contact

To get in touch, email us at photography_centre@vam.ac.uk

The Photography Centre is made possible by Sir Elton John and David Furnish, The Kusuma Trust, The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation, Ruth Parasol and The Parasol Foundation Trust, Modern Media, Shao Zhong Art Foundation and many other generous supporters.

Background image: Blast #5707, photograph by Naoya Hatakeyama, 1998. Museum no. E.4-2003. © Naoya Hatakeyama