London Photography Exhibitions this Season

This season marks some of the highlights of London’s arts & culture scene, with a rich line-up of photographic exhibitions showcasing both world-renowned and upcoming talents from around the globe. Bundle up and head out to these 10 must-see exhibitions, some of which are closing soon and shouldn’t be missed:

photography exhibitions in london

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

(Tate Modern, South Bank, ending May 7,2017)

Legendary pop artist Sir Elton John has long been a devoted modern photography collector, and at last some of the icon’s most cherished pieces will be open for public viewing. Of his 8,000+ collection, works ranging from Man Ray to fashion visionary Irving Penn, along with surrealists André Kertesz and Josef Breitenbach, will be displayed.

All manner of themes and techniques are evident throughout the exhibited images, which are divided into loose categories such as portraiture, landscape, experimental, and documentary, along with spectacular photomontages, rayograms, and solarised images that were the hallmark of modern photography’s wildest–and most courageous–interpretations.

While some critics have suggested that the use of Sir Elton John’s name to market the exhibit and bring in audiences (“It’s his personal collection! You have to see it!”) is in more than a little poor taste, there’s no denying the treasure trove of work on display here, and well worth the time of true devotees to the art of modern photography.

Malick Sidibé

(Somerset House, Temple, ending January 15 2017)

Granted French independence in 1960, Sidibé immediately went on to document the era of his freedom. No facets of pop culture, from rock music to motorbikes to the cacophonic fashions, escaped his lens, with a pointed counter-reference to the realities of his own background playing out practically a separate world away.

Of the striking images displayed, the photographer introduces us to teenagers learning new dance moves and showing off prized records and clothing trends, as much the product of Sidibé’s own nostalgia for Western culture as dependable documentation. Sidibé is elusive in his time framing, often shifting cultural references to eras prior to the dates in which the subjects were shot. Whether this technique was intentional or accidental, it poses the question: does time shape our memories or do our memories shape time?

Feminist Avant-Garde Of The 1970s

(Photographers’ Gallery, Soho, ending Sunday January 8 2017)

Featuring over 200 photographic works by 48 artists hailing from a collective 20 countries, this exhibition is no less than a monument to the women who pioneered the field in an era that still sought to suppress them. Don’t be fooled by the exhibit’s tagline, though; these are works of both extreme importance and devastating talent–and a sheer joy to experience.

Domestic bliss vs domestic monotony, sexuality, body image, and personal freedom are just a few of the themes explored and expressed in the relatively small perimeters of the exhibition space. Video and sculpture art are also featured, as well as unique photomontages. Lest you think it’s all in seriousness, there are more than a few tongue-in-cheek creations (quite literally, in some cases), such as Birgit Jürgenssen’s ‘bun in the oven’ self-portrait, Penny Wilson’s wedding cake costume, and a vulva coloring book.

Teller on Mapplethorpe

(Alison Jacques, Fitzrovia, ending January 7,2017)

Few photographers have elicited as much modern controversy as Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work beautifully and disturbingly blends classical values with sexual taboos. The same man who produced exquisite photographic still lives of floral arrangements could, in the same breath, capture a moment that deliberately toed the pornographic line, daring the viewer to consider the latter subject with the same reverence as the former.

Marking what would have been Mapplethorpe’s 70th birthday, photographer Juergen Teller has curated the exhibit to bring to light rarely-seen images from the Mapplethorpe catalog. The 48 pieces on display reflect Mapplethorpe’s fascination and sensitivity towards the overlooked minutiae of everyday life, from flora & fauna to architectural details and animals. While some of the photographer’s signature black and white nudes are also included in the exhibit, the pieces are cleverly integrated into a seamless perspective in which no subject overshadows another.

Portraits of intimate poignancy are, perhaps appropriately, tucked away in a back corner of the exhibit: nudes of Mapplethorpe’s former lovers Patti Smith and Sam Wagstaff, along with a self portrait of the photographer himself, reflect the fierce but fragile quality of the artist’s private world.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

(Natural History Museum, Brompton, ending September 10,2017)

Celebrating its 52nd year, the prestigious wildlife photography competition and subsequent exhibition returns to the Natural History Museum with stunning images of the natural world, captured by both established and amateur photographers. 100 selected pieces were unveiled October 21 of this year, along with the final winner, and will run through September of next year. A must-see for aspiring wildlife photographers, the exhibit also offers a unique opportunity to submit works of your own for next year’s consideration and prospective accolades.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

(National Portrait Gallery, Leicester Square, ending February 27, 2017)

An annual prize-showcasing exhibit that highlights the finest in contemporary portrait photography, the Taylor Wessing exhibition is an eclectic celebration of different styles, themes, and subject matter, offering photographers of all inspirations a platform to see and be seen by their creative peers.

Fauna Brazil

(Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, ending January 8, 2017)

Guests are invited to enjoy the vibrant wildlife of Brazil as part of the Horniman’s Festival of Brasil. The exhibit features a brilliantly captured collection of exotic species such as macaws, jaguars, and porcupines, as well as unforgettable landscapes, appropriate for all ages and interests.

Swans, Gloves, Roses And Pancakes: Photos By Martin Parr

(Tower Bridge, Bermondsey, ending March 1, 2017)

Marking the first major photography exhibit in the Tower Bridge Engine Rooms, the show promises to acquaint newcomers and longtime fans alike with the “celebrated chronicler of British weirdness” himself, via one of the most delightfully whimsical exhibits the season.

David Bailey: NW1

(HENI Publishing, Soho, ending January 31,2017)

Marking the 34th anniversary of Bailey’s book ‘NW1: A Series of Images of Camden and Primrose Hill,’ the exhibit is featured as a tie-in with the book’s reprinted edition, offering a rare glimpse into the photographer’s former decades-long residence, which at the time had fallen into a now-unrecognizable state of dereliction.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year

(Royal Observatory, Greenwich, ending December 23,2016)

An eye-opening homage to astrophotography, the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition features award-winning photography of all things infinite and overhead: rich night skies, swirling galaxies, and much more. Categories include “Stars and Nebulae,” “Galaxies,” “Planets, Comets, and Asteroids,” as well as a special “Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year” award for ages 16 and under.