Posts Tagged ‘obituary’

Sue Davies (1933-2020)

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

I was sad to read yesterday of the death of Sue Davies, who was the inspiration and for around 20 years director of London’s Photographers’ Gallery, the first permanent space in the UK dedicated to showing photography.

You can read as I did her obituary by Michael Pritchard on the British photographic history blog which gives details of her life and her great contribution to photographic life in this country, beginning at the ICA before founding the gallery, and I won’t repeat what he says here, but add my own personal thoughts, not about Sue Davies, who I never knew well, but about the gallery she founded.

Before I became an active photographer I had been for a short time a member of the ICA but cannot remember which exhibitions and events I attended there (it was the ’60s and a long time ago.) But the opening of the gallery in Great Newport St more or less co-incided with my moving back down south and my beginnings as an active photographer, and though I missed its start I was soon a member and a regular attender at openings and talks there.

I never really got to know Sue Davies, though I did occasionally talk to her at events over the years, but I did get to know some of the staff who worked with her, particularly in the bookshop and cafe, as well as volunteers who staffed the library and photographers who like me would drop in occasionally when they were around in London, perhaps for a coffee and to browse in the bookshop. After lectures and openings some of us would find our way to the Porcupine pub close by where the discussions were often intense and opinions rather more frank than in the gallery.

For some years too the gallery hosted a group of “young” photographers, though some were even older than me and we would bring in our own work for discussion, sometimes with more established photographers – such as Martin Parr – coming to add their views. And although I never found taking my work to show the gallery curators helpful, I did benefit from an insightful and embarrassingly public review at a gallery event by Ralph Gibson.

As Pritchard states, “Davies was encouraged to step down as director in 1991” possibly because of problems with funding and somehow after she left the gallery was never the same for me. Of course there had been other changes – the young photographers group had been dropped, probably because it was too anti-establishment (and the gallery did have a clique of the old guard we considered as the dead hand of UK photography.) And a few years earlier Clare de Rouen had left the bookshop to work at Zwemmers around the corner where many of us spent more time.

But there were other changes, with programming that appeared to me in general less interesting, and certainly in more recent years often showing work that seems of relatively little photographic interest. So much so that I decided a few years back not to renew my membership, despite still feeling considerable gratitude for its past.