Brett Rogers OBE, has been the director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London since 2005. She is widely credited for elevating photography as a prominent art medium in the UK and positioning the Photographers’ Gallery as one of the most important institutions worldwide. It reopened in 2012 with a new location and a new building designed by architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, after a two-year renovation period. The Photographers’ Gallery’s mission and Brett Rogers’ noble ambition is to continue showcasing international photographers at home while supporting British photographers internationally.
Prior to joining the Gallery in November 2005, Rogers worked at the British Council as Visual Arts Deputy Director and Head of Exhibitions where she was responsible for establishing the policy for the photography programme alongside curating and producing stand-out exhibitions from British artists including Anish Kapoor (Venice Biennale, 1991), Damien Hirst (2004); Henry Moore (Hong Kong, 1985) and Cornelia Parker (São Paulo Biennale, 1993). A leading writer and speaker on photography, she is a regular media contributor and participates in numerous panels and conferences on photographic developments and discourse.
She talks to Art is Alive about the recent exhibitions she has visited, the upcoming programme of the Photographers’ Gallery and the winners of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.
As Director of the Photographer’s Gallery, what’s your biggest challenge: curating exhibitions, acquiring relevant works or making sure people come and return to the space?
All the above (though we don’t acquire works for a collection as we are a ‘kunsthalle’ – exhibiting space only) but these days, it is of course finding new partnerships and other means of generating more income to ensure the Gallery can continue to provide its world-class exhibition programme and educational activities! Our messaging about being a charity needing to raise its own income is fairly subtle but with the decline in public funding, we will be pressing home the message of how visitors who enjoy the Gallery can support us by becoming Members / Patrons more strongly in months to come. You are right that ensuring people return regularly is enormously important to us because it demonstrates loyalty and hopefully those people also spread the word to others about the Gallery.
Please select a few highlights in the upcoming exhibitions and tell us why they are significant works?
This year we are delighted to be exhibiting Under Cover – a History of Cross Dressers (all collected by one French collector over a period of two decades from flea markets and auctions). What excites us is being able to share this sensitive material (which for obvious reasons has remained anonymous and hidden away for decades) with a wider public. We very much hope it will raise awareness and generate debate about issues which continue to plague the lives of the LGBTQ+ community.
In Summer 2018 to coincide with the centenary of Womens Suffrage we will be showcasing two outstanding women photographers – one from the 1980s, Tish Murtha who recorded with great sensitivity the effects of Youth Unemployment on communities in Newcastle and at another extreme Alex Prager a young LA based artist who constructs a fictional universe in her vibrant films and still images around the lives of women.
Any treasures in your archives that the public don’t have access to?
In advance of our forthcoming 50th anniversary in 2021, we are exploring the extent of our archive and will be revealing some of the amazing content in due course.
Tell us about the architecture of the Gallery and how it was conceived?
The new gallery which opened in 2012 was designed by the Irish architects O’Donnell and Tuomey (they subsequently won the Queens Gold Medal for Architecture in 2015). Our relationship with the architects was extremely constructive as they worked closely with the entire team to achieve our ambitions for the building. As a result we got a building that not only works for visitors, artists and staff providing state of the art galleries for exhibiting photography, a learning and education floor but also a truly inclusive social space to ensure everyone feels welcome when they step inside.
Future exhibitions / projects we should be aware of?
As we have already referenced a few 2018 exhibitions, I would like to mention some forthcoming highlights within our Digital Programme as this is a very significant aspect of our overall offer focused on looking critically at the future of photography. On our Media Wall in February we will be exploring an unusual subject – the politics of the Nipple its representation online (Instagram/social media) is highly contested these days. During our Geekender (a weekend of activities open to everyone taking place on 17/18 March) we will collaborate with partners to focus on the theme TOWARDS A FEMINIST INTERNET. During these two days of ongoing events/ workshops and a party, we will look into everything from the predominance of males in tech industry to online trolling and prejudices against members of LGBTQ+ communities.
Can you tell us more about the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize: how are the artists selected and why are their work important to art / photography history?
Each year we appoint a jury of 4 people – an artist, critical commentator and one other expert from within the photography world. They sit alongside Anne-Marie Beckmann Curator of the Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation to consider which of the 100-odd nominees should be shortlisted to four. Once the work of the four nominees has been exhibited at the gallery, the same jury meets again to consider which artist’s project they consider has made the most outstanding contribution to photography in the past 12 month.
The Prize is now in its 17th year and looking back at the roster of winners, it is clear that both the winners and the nominees reflect the most influential figures within photography over the past two decades – taking as just two examples, Andreas Gursky in 1998 to Richard Mosse in 2015.
Your favourite photographers of all time and why?
Far too many to name – I am always discovering new ones such as Lucas Foglia, Johny Briggs, Eva Stenram, Chloe Dew Mathews, Alma Haser, Sara Cwynar, Evgenia Arbugaeva, to name just a few.
Your proudest achievement?
Given the long hours, fundraising efforts, new learning curve and commitment demonstrated by my entire staff and Board of Trustees, I would say that completing the building on time and getting it open successfully in 2012 was my proudest achievement.
Your tastes in contemporary art, who do you look at and like?
Honestly I enjoy all of contemporary art as that is my background (at the British Council I was responsible for all visual arts including photography) so I never miss Documenta or the Venice/Sao Paulo Biennales. Just check out my Instagram brettrogerstpg and you will soon discover that I see just as much contemporary art as photography.
Recent exhibitions you’ve seen and liked?
- Pipolotti Rist at the MCA Sydney
- Lianzhou Photogrpahy Festival Lianzhou China (despite the government censorship)
- Michael Landy at Sperone Westwater New York 2017
- Edvard Munch Met Bruer
- Stephen Shore MOMA New York
- Malick Sibide Cartier Foundation Paris 2017
- Idris Khan Victoria Miro 2017
- Offprint – independent book fair Paris November 2017
Images: © Suki Dhanda, Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery