Photographers Gallery continues to disappoint, Getty Gallery enthrals

Once of my very favourite central London haunts, the Photographers Gallery has suffered an expansion program that has conspired to make the experience considerably worse over the years.

The Gallery seems to have been driven by a profile-raising agenda in recent years, presumably in a quest to attract more sponsorship dosh, and it’s all the worse for it.

The Gallery was at its best when it occupied two buildings in Great Newport Street, Leicester Square – the setting was more informal, and you didn’t have to keep on climbing flight after flight of stairs to see anything.

At the heart of the old Gallery was the main room with its lovely cafe, run by Billy (who had been there for as long as I can recall) backed up by his team of friendly staff.

The Photographers’ Gallery moved to its new four storey site by Oxford Circus in December 2008. The entire building then closed after a couple of years to allow substantial redevelopment work to take place, with the cafe staff unceremoniously being shown the door.

Relaunching in May 2012, the building has now been extended upwards, with the warm and inviting original cafe being booted out to be replaced by a bland ground floor affair which seems rather cold and impersonal.

It’s all slick, clean and tidy of course, but there’s no art on the walls, and the black marbled floor and white walls make it feel more like a hospital than an art gallery.

There’s now six floors on offer, but not all are showing off any work. Last weekend, one room had turned into a library for looking at a collection of Japanese photo books, while the Camera Obscura wasn’t working as usual.

The only floor that really works is the top floor and it was the only one that had any work that excited me on my last visit.

Shinier, but worse

I used to love visiting the Photographers Gallery- even if I didn’t like the work on show, the cafe was always worth popping into.

Sadly, I don’t share their version for a bigger, shinier, more corporate version, so my visits are going to be far less frequent, and I’ll drink my coffee somewhere where’s there’s a warmer atmosphere.

Chat about the gallery here: Photographer’s Gallery reopens and it’s a bit meh.

It’s not all bad news though, because in recent years the nearby Getty Images Gallery has been putting on some fantastic shows.

I loved their current Londoners At Play exhibition, displaying some fantastic archive photographs taken over the last hundred years or so of Londoners having fun.

There’s some fabulous photos on show.

Situated close to Oxford Circus tube, you can find Getty Images at  46 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DX.

Admission is free, and the opening hours are Monday – Friday: 10am – 5.30pm, Saturday: 12 – 5.30pm. It’s well worth a visit.

7 Comments on “Photographers Gallery continues to disappoint, Getty Gallery enthrals”

  1. Hi Mike, it’s Billy from The (Old) Photographers’ Gallery here. Thanks for the kind words about the original place – it was pretty special. Mostly down to the eclectic bunch of visitors like yourself and Em, the love it or loath it exhibitions, and the brilliant staff – most of who are still there and working hard. I’m sure the new one will find it’s feet and inspire as many as the old. Get in touch on Facebook (if you do that kind of thing)! x Billy Reid

  2. I’m reading this article two years after it was published but thank you so much for writing such a pertinent article. I found this and two other pieces of similar sentiment (by both Momus and stylesforwomen*) whilst googling ‘Photographers Gallery Newport Street Cafe’, which goes some way to demonstrate how much I miss it!
    The original cafe, run by Billy – whose name I never knew until reading two of these posts, due to my crippling shyness back then – was indeed the best thing about an already vital gallery.
    He and his staff were always incredibly friendly, whilst their selection of food was consistently broad-ranging, imaginative and of great price value. The atmosphere they created in the Newport Street site, later matched in their short-lived upstairs space at Ramillies Street, was relaxed and welcoming. You could go there to meet friends, have work meetings or have some quiet time alone with a book and a cake.
    It was bad enough that the Newport Street gallery had to close, further diminishing the character of Charing Cross Road and its surrounds after the closure of so many iconic bookshops such as Shipley and Zwemmer, so it felt like a double blow when Ramillies Street reopened for the second time without Billy. The gallery have also missed a trick by no longer blending the cafe with the exhibitions.


  3. I am writing this four years later…..first visit to the Photographers Gallery and a great disappointment. Went to see the Sebastiao Delgado exhibition which was in a dark semi basement and really dreary. A bad decision to have the toilets off the cramped main staircase as there was a constant smell of wee which rather spoiled the atmosphere. It all must have cost a lot of money, and normally I like the work of the Irish architects O’Donnell and Tuomey but they concentrated on the outside too much. So far no competition in London to the excellent Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris.

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