The Photographers’ Gallery

Tomorrow evening across Europe, millions of people will be watching the annual festival of… well… music I guess, that is the Eurovision Song Contest. There have already been a couple of semi-finals, with the big show happening in Baku tomorrow night.
So it was interesting in the same week as this is happening to go to the first exhibition in the newly refurbished Photographers’ GalleryOil by Edward Burtynsky.
For some years now, Burtynsky has been recording the effect on our landscapes of oil, its extraction and what it means. Over two massive brand new floors at the gallery, we saw some enormous prints of these sometimes vast landscapes. From oil derricks and highways, to oil spills and dismantled ships.
But the photos he took in Baku during 2006 really resonated because there was a landscape thoroughly ruined by the careless extraction of oil. You suspect that when they show those short films that show off the city during tomorrow’s broadcast, that imagery probably won’t make the cut.
I know there was a Panorama on Azerbaijan on Monday, while Steve Hewlett gave Ingrid Deltenre, the EBU’s director general, a tough time on Wednesday’s Media Show. But it is interesting nonetheless that Eurovision is taking place there this year, and some questions do need to be asked.
The images Burtynsky took of ships being dismantled on the beach in Bangladesh were horrific. A lady I was talking to about the images at the gallery said that I should make sure I see this week’s episode of The Indian Ocean with Simon Reeves (an excellent programme that I have been watching anyway), which covers this very thing. I’ve seen photos of this industry before, but it’s still astonishing. And not in a good way.
The gallery also has a Camera Obscura which only operates at certain times. It was working when I was there, but they’ve yet to take delivery of their special lens, so we could only see a fairly dark image projected on the wall behind. It’ll be worth looking at when
And downstairs in the basement there’s the excellent bookshop full of hundreds of titles. Worryingly, there’s also a very healthy selection of cameras of the Lomographic and Holga variety, as well as other speciality and rare models. I may have to keep clear!
Anyway, it’s all well worth a visit.