SOURCE PHOTO: 30 / OCT / 2011
THE INVISIBLE GALLERY
Posted by Richard West
Two weeks ago I spoke to photography students in Falmouth and one of the questions I asked them was if they felt part of a photography community. Some did, some saw the university as their community, but most explored the photography world online. There's lots of stuff online but there is also a lot missing. If the experience doesn't translate online, if there is no easy way to link to it and if there are no advocates, then bits of the world remain invisible to the web.
There are many examples of this in photography such as old photo magazines but the most striking lacuna is photography galleries. In Ireland and the UK the photography galleries first grew up in the 1970s. To see their importance you only need to look at the CVs of now famous photographers like Martin Parr (who had his early shows at Impressions Gallery) or Paul Graham. These galleries each have 40-year exhibition histories that are invisible online (here's the exhibitions for the Gallery of Photography back to 1999, but what about 1978 - 1999?). This might give the impression that no one is visiting these galleries any more but in 2009/10 the Photographers' Gallery received 381,615 visitors and even the quietest regional galleries get more than 1,000 people a show, which is probably more than would see any publication of the same work.
So, we have a network of well-established galleries, with long and varied histories and eager contemporary audiences, how are they represented online? Let's try the web's reference book of choice, Wikipedia. Of the 11 photo galleries that have existed for more than 20 years: the Gallery of Photography, Belfast Exposed, Focal Point, Ffotogallery, Stills, Open Eye, Street Level, Impressions, Side Gallery, Photofusion and the Photographers Gallery only three have entries on Wikipedia, the Photographers' Gallery, Ffotogallery and Belfast Exposed (and they are pretty scant). Given that Wikipedia can record all the villages in Lincolnshire (where more of the residents are sheep than people) this seems a peculiar blindness to me.
At the beginning of this year the Director of Impressions Gallery, Anne McNeill, called a meeting of the people who run photography organisations to discuss ‘collaborations and networks’. If a new generation of people interested in photography are learning about the medium via the web it would appear there is still plenty for this network to talk about, perhaps starting with a request for volunteers to dash off a few Wikipedia entries.