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Go See: ‘The Picture Library’ – 200 working press prints from the Guardian archive

Photo: Greenham Common protester 1982 ©Roger Tooth,
Courtesy Guardian News & Media Archive

This looks like a great press photo show at the The Photographers’ Gallery in London – The Picture Library; an exhibition of more than 200 images drawn from the legendary Guardian picture library, exploring photojournalism across the 20th Century.

• Runs 25 JUNE – 26 SEPT 2021.
• The Picture Library opens alongside the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021.

Offering a rare glimpse into the Guardian archive, The Picture Library brings together unique working press prints as well as contact sheets, editing notes and other newspaper ephemera, illuminating the behind-the-scenes workings of a traditional picture desk and charting the development of photojournalism. The exhibition also provides a startling insight into many of the major cultural and political preoccupations which have played out in the UK in recent years – race, gender, feminism, nationalism, immigration, post-colonialism, globalisation and the climate crisis – offering a unique opportunity to consider the role photojournalism plays within a rapidly changing society and how images can be mobilised in the service of a free and liberal press.

Taking place in the year The Guardian celebrates its 200th anniversary and The Photographers’ Gallery its 50th, The Picture Library delves into the extensive Guardian archive to present rarely seen vintage treasures, agency wire photos and classic examples of the work of numerous Guardian staff ‘snappers’. The broad range of photographs on display attest to the Guardian’s liberal stance, including images of gay rights marches, riots, demonstrations, strikes, political rallies and social deprivation.

While some of the images on display in the exhibition were taken by celebrated photographers, for example Cecil Beaton and Yousuf Karsh, the exhibition mirrors the non-hierarchical nature of the library itself which filed images according to ‘subject’ and ‘personality’, with images once deemed significant or newsworthy presented alongside the obscure, the unfamiliar and the strange.

The endless annotations on these working images – captions, bylines, rights’ holder, cropping instructions, date of each publication, and sometimes even the article itself – shed light on the complex relationship between image and text. Detached from their original context, these photographs can now be appreciated as complex historical artefacts in their own right.

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