Interview with Brett Rogers OBE, director of The Photographer's Gallery

Photo credit: The Photographers’ Gallery at 16-18 Ramillies Street © Dennis Gilbert

We continue our series of interviews with the esteemed judges of this year's Head On Photo Awards with Brett Rogers OBE.  Brett is an important figure in photography in the UK, having been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the arts and receiving the Award for Outstanding Service to Photography from the Royal Photographic Society.

Please tell us a bit about yourself - who are you and what do you do?

I’m Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers Gallery in London.

The Gallery was founded in 1971 in Covent Garden London and was the first publicly funded gallery devoted to photography in UK. From the outset, it has been instrumental in promoting photography and wider image culture’s value within the wider world and its importance as an art form. For a history of the gallery and its programme read here

I was born and raised in Sydney Australia, read Fine Arts at the University of Sydney and was fortunate to have ’come of age’ in the Whitlam era when the arts began to be recognised and a new funding body (the Australia Council) established to support artists. My first position was as a Trainee Exhibitions Officer (1976) at the newly formed Australian Gallery Director’s Council – a body comprising both the State and regional galleries across Australia with the aim of both touring exhibitions and providing a network to support arts professionals. Over my subsequent 4 years there, I worked as an Exhibitions Officer with all the major state galleries as well as regional galleries, curating and installing many exhibitions devoted to Australian and international art and photography. In 1980 I decided to undertake an MA at the Courtauld Institute, University of London.

In 1982 I was appointed as an Exhibitions Officer at the British Council (the cultural arm of the Foreign Office) with special responsibility for developing a new policy and programme for photography. Over the 20 years I worked at the Council I developed over 30 photography exhibitions, purchased 200 photographic works for the Council’s art collection and worked with various British artists such as Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Cornelia Parker, Howard Hodgkin, Chris Ofili on the presentation of their work abroad. From the mid 1990s, as Deputy Director of the Visual Arts Department, I was responsible with a team of around 25 staff for British representation at the various international Biennales – Venice, Sao Paulo, Istanbul and Delhi Triennale.

In 2005 I left the Council to take up the position of Director of The Photographers Gallery which at that point was looking for new premises. Together with a newly appointed Board, we settled upon a venue nearby our previous venue in Soho for our new home and I began a major Capital Project to fundraise for the new building and to appoint architects to redevelop the site. The new building which was completed and opened in May 2012 provided us with three handsome exhibition spaces, a floor dedicated to education and attractive new retail areas.

As 2021 represents our 50th anniversary we are launching a new ambitious addition to our gallery – a public realm project providing artists with the chance to exhibit their work immediately outside and around the gallery – the Soho Photography Quarter. More info can be found here

Image credit: Soho Photography Quarter - Andreas Lechthaler Architecture | Artworks © Shirley Baker Estate

Can you give an overview of one of your typical workdays?

They are so varied – sometimes I am involved in endless meetings with my staff or my Board about logistics/financial sustainability (especially during Covid); planning meetings regarding the future program or special events or I might be meeting an artist or doing a public talk with an artist or about one of our shows. I like to do portfolio reviews with emerging artists as that really helps me keep in touch with what’s preoccupying photographers and of course seeing photographic/art exhibitions remains my biggest passion – they always inspire me! I cannot wait until the gallery reopens and I can walk around the galleries and just talk to people about the shows we have on – engaging directly with our audiences is always so satisfying.

What skills are required or personal attributes essential for success in your position?

I guess key business management skills are even more essential today than ever before if you want your institution to survive ie strategic planning/ financial and HR management plus of course an understanding of who your audiences are and how your institution fits into the wider cultural landscape.

Of course, it is important to understand and appreciate the history of the arts (and photography’s place within it) and closely follow the many new directions in which the medium is heading – the networked image, computational photography and NFTs all come to mind here.

And of course, in terms of personal attributes - lots of stamina, enthusiasm for meeting new people and an openness to new ideas are all absolutely key. I think I have always been so fortunate to have jobs that I have absolutely adored.

Image credit: The Photographers’ Gallery Bookshop © Kate Elliott

What parts of your job do you find most challenging? Enjoyable?

Working with artists to help them develop an idea – which just might be unformed at the start – but the feeling of satisfaction when you see the final project either in book form or up on the gallery walls is always so thrilling. These days I have less opportunity to curate and install the exhibitions we do here as we have a small curatorial team who do this very well, but I always love to be involved in some way. In the end, we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our mission without talented artists.

Who or what should we be looking out for in the field today?

That’s really too big a question! Photography is so global that there are always going to be new artists to discover and new work to enjoy. I would certainly recommend people follow key journals/platforms either on social media or their newsletter such as:

Its NiceThat, Hyperallergic, Paperjournal, 1000words, photomonitor

to name just a few and, of course, to follow the key international institutions and photography festivals as well, as together they are always able to spot the most interesting new talent.

 

Thanks to Brett for a fascinating interview and for her insightful recommendations.  We hope you add our online magazine Head On InterActional to your reading list when we go live later in August.  Meanwhile, we have more interviews to come so stay tuned... and don't forget the deadline for the Head On Photo Awards looms large - they close on 31 May so don't delay, enter now.

 

ENTER THE AWARDS

 

 

Photo credit: The Photographers’ Gallery at 16-18 Ramillies Street © Dennis Gilbert

 

 

Category
Festival Year
2021