A photography trail - collections and galleries across the UK

By Caroline Lewis | 17 October 2008
An image of a man slouched in a deckchair wearing clothing that cuts midway accross his chest. His leg and torso are naked and half of his face is painted.

A Century of Spin: An exhibition about PR photography by Factotum was at Belfast Exposed in November 28 2008. Photo © J.Moran, c. 1940 / Corbis

While the UK doesn’t have a heart of photography like Paris (home of great 20th century masters of film), we’ve still got an incredible amount going on in the field, gallery-wise, with most cities offering a dedicated place to see camera-based art vintage and new.

The Photo-London fair (in spring) now aims to rival Paris Photo, the annual autumnal fair considered to be the most important in the world, and several non-commercial festivals also grace our shores. The Brighton Photo Biennial is doing a fine job, for example, as is London’s photomonth; Yorkshire’s contribution was called Ways of Looking in 2008, the West Midlands hosts Rhubarb Rhubarb and Tees Valley Museums are also in on the act, running their own photography festival. But there are even more places where you can enjoy the fruits of the f-stop all year round…

London / Essex

The Photographers’ Gallery is the top place for contemporary exhibitions. It closed its doors in Great Newport Street in November 2008 and moved to Ramillies Street, Soho in time for Christmas 2008 where it continues to deliver a cutting edge exhibition programme, evnts programme, bookshop and rather a nice cafe.

While you're in the capital you may want to check out the AOP Gallery and HOST for cutting edge arty stuff.

A picture of the new Photographers' Gallery, a wide building with a white bottom half and brick and windows on the upper floors, lights over the glass front door and people passing by on the street outside

The Photographers' Gallery in London's Ramillies Street, near Oxford Circus.

Meanwhile, Viewfinder Gallery|www.viewfinder.org.uk} in Greenwich does a sterling job of giving exposure to new photographic voices, as does the Focal Point Gallery|www.focalpoint.org.uk} a bit further to the east in Southend.

The National Portrait Gallery often turns its focus from painted faces to photographed ones, and hosts the prestigious Photographic Portrait Prize every year, currently sponsored by Taylor & Wessing. In 2008/early 2009 it’s showing a major Annie Leibovitz exhibition.

Other prizes that hit big in the photographic world include the Deutsche Börse (in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery), in recent years won by Walid Raad/The Atlas Group and Esko Mannikko. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, backed by the BBC (and more controversially in the past, by oil company Shell).

The latter is a wonder to behold, always including the cute and the fierce, the breathtaking and the giggle inducing. It tours around the country after starting out at the Natural History Museum in London.

A photograph of an elephant having a splash in a mud bath.

© Ben Osbourne / Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2007

(Above)Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2007 was held at the National History Museum before going on a tour around the country. Winner Ben Osbourne captures the sense of freedom and enjoyment perfectly in Elephant Creation, a bull elephant indulging in a muddy bath in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

The Guardian Print Room opens for reportage photography exhibitions by names such as Don McPhee, while the Brunei Gallery often has great documentary style exhibitions with their roots in Africa, the Middle East or the Orient (it’s the gallery for SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies).

The Museum of London has a directory of historic public photographic collections in the capital here: www.museumoflondon.org.uk/photolondon.


Also on the historical side, the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust at Dimbola Lodge on the Isle of Wight, is a treasure trove of early processes.

Victorian JMC was a friend of the stars, so expect to see pics of her mates Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Ellen Terry and some Pre-Raphaelites, as well as contemporary exhibitions from Lord Snowdon to Bruce Rae.

Photograph shows Dimbola Lodge.

Dimbola Lodge, Isle of Wight, is the former home of Julia Margaret Cameron. Photo courtesy Dimbola Lodge Museum

The Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock in Wiltshire is dedicated to one of the fathers of the medium. Mr William Henry Fox Talbot invented the first silver printing process (using paper coated with silver halide to create an image) after being inspired by the camera obscura used by artists as a short cut to initial outlines.

The Guildford Museum has some prized works by Victorian photographer, author and Reverend, Lewis Carroll.

A pick for more mainstay fine art photography by folks like Fay Godwin and Terry O’Neill is the Independent Photographers’ Gallery in Battle, near Hastings, founded by highly renowned printer Robin Bell and his artist wife, Lucy.


Norwich Arts Centre offers plenty of film-based courses as well as displaying some fantastic exhibitions that are probably digital prints in the main. Watch out for the Norfolk Photographer of the Year competition, held annually in the summer.

The place to go for such things in Ipswich is Exposure, which has had big name fashion photography in of late, including international glossy magazine work by Ram Shergill.

A photograph of a Belisher beacon and a bird flying against a blue sky

Clare Savory was a finalist at this year's Norfolk Photographer of the Year, at the Norwich Arts Centre. Clare Savory's Lesser Noticed Things. © The artist


A most respected institution, the Royal Photographic Society is based in Bath, where it holds exhibitions and courses. The shows also tour – ones to look out for are the annual RPS Prints Exhibition and the Projected Image competition.

Nearby, Bristol’s Arnolfini shows plenty of camera work, and over in the West Midlands, Light House in Wolverhampton is a gallery and training space. Ikon in Brum has photographs on show now and again, and Birmingham Central Library holds quite a collection.

Shows a photo of a concrete and glass fronted building with the words Central Library on it and a rows of pink flowers along its windows

Birmingham's Central Library. © James Maskrey


Bradford’s National Media Museum used to be called the Museum of Film, Photography and Television, which gives you a clue as to its amazing archive of snaps, ranging from beach photography to the museum collection of the Royal Photographic Society.

In the same town you will find Impressions Gallery, devoted to modern photography.

Black and white photograph of a woman in Victorian dress and hat seated in a rowing boat

The National Media Museum in Bradford became the first UK institution to make parts of its collection available on Flickr, the popular photo sharing and networking website. Woman in a rowing boat (c.1890). Courtesy National Media Museum/Kodak Museum

Pavilion is a photographic commissioning agency based in Leeds, and has its own gallery as well as organising exhibitions at other venues (think modern art photography). The Lowry in Manchester often has photography on show, with landscape man Jem Southam on show until spring 2009.

Further north, you shouldn’t miss the Side Gallery in Newcastle, and not too far away is the Decisive Moment Gallery in Darlington.

To the west, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery hosts six exhibitions a year and promotes the practice, enjoyment and understanding of photography. They also work with a range of media, including film, video and installation

An image of a tall, narrow red and beige brick lighthouse.

Jem Southam's exhibition, Clouds Descending, will be on view at the Lowry Museum , from November 15, 2008 through March 22, 2009. Lighthouse, Rampside July 2006. Photo © Jem Southam


Edinburgh’s Stills Gallery is a marvellous place for getting to grips with the art of taking pictures. The gallery acts as not just an exhibition space, but a place for learning darkroom techniques and brushing up on digital imaging, too.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Dean Gallery and Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh often hold photographic exhibitions, while in Glasgow, the School of Art’s photography department provide material for the galleries and Glasgow Museums host various lens-based exhibitions.

An image of white smokey-looking shapes on a black background

Simon Starling, Inventar-Nr. 8573 (Man Ray) 4m-400nm, 2006. 80 medium format B&W slides, 2 medium format slide projectors, S-AV unit, CD. © The artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow

(Above) Simon Starling is one of the artists featured in Close-Up: Proximity and Defamiliarisation in Photography, Film and Art at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery from October 24 2008 – January 11 2009.


Ffotogallery, in Cardiff is Wales’ premier photographic organisation and gallery. Their Turner House Gallery programme is excellent, as is their educative side.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth come up trumps with lots of photography shows.

Black and white photo of the artist in a skirt and head scarf standing next to a crumbling wall

Grayson Perry's exhibition Unpopular Culture will be exhibited at The Aberystwyth Arts Centre next year, March 21 2008 - May 10 2008. Photo: Eric Great-Rex, © the artist, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Northern Ireland

Belfast Exposed runs a tremendous programme of contemporary art photography – recently featuring work by the editor of Source, Ireland’s artiest photographic journal. Linen Hall Library often offers up more traditional fare in occasional temporary exhibitions.

If you know of any more public galleries or museums that you think should be included in this trail, why not get in touch with us at newsdesk@culture24.org.uk

Caroline Lewis is a freelance journalist with a special interest in photography, horticulture and traditional crafts.

  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share


  • 1 mile
  • 2 miles
  • 3 miles
  • 4 miles
  • 5 miles
  • 10 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 50 miles
  • Any time
  • Today
  • This week
  • This month
  • This year