New Wave 13: Media Space

The National Media Museum wants to open a gallery in London. In fact, depending on who you listen to, they have wanted to do this since they were first established in Bradford in 1983. What is more, apart from a few grumbles from rivals, everyone else wants them to achieve this as well. But, for some reason, it has taken a very long time to organise. Along the way the Museum has been restructured, changed its name and parted company with senior curators and its Director. A special Creative Director for the project was appointed and then later resigned. Funding was hard to come by and the project was scaled back. There have been countless delays. But now it looks like it is finally going to happen. Media Space should open in 2013.

I was given an introduction to what the Media Space would be about by its Curator Hannah Redler and its Press Officer Eleanor Macnair. Unfortunately, three weeks later the opening date and show had changed, but never mind, if it does launch in September it will be widely welcomed. To take the positives, there will be four large galleries, including climate controlled space for old photographs. This will contain a mixture of large blockbuster shows and regularly changing small shows. This will allow more exposure of the Media Museum's collection as well as a new curatorial approach to showing photographs. So there is a lot to look forward to.

On a less positive note, there are some reasons to be concerned that the project's problems will continue. Michael Wilson (described as the 'Evil Genius' behind Media Space) said that the V&A had been 'violently opposed' to the establishment of Media Space. It is hard to know what justification there could have been for this opposition and is not an encouraging measure of collaboration between our national photography collections. More than anything else what puzzles me about the venture is its remit and attitude to photography. The name Media Space and its role as a satellite of the National Media Museum would imply it will show new media, radio, television and film as well as photography. The launch I was invited to, (what PR people call a 'cultivation event') was exclusively attended by photography people and all the talk was about the 'photography community' but if you listen carefully to Hannah Redler she says Media Space will be 'photography biased, initially...'.

This appears, from the outside, to have been a contentious issue in the development of the project. Charlotte Cotton's version of Media Space was less of a conventional photography gallery than what is being presented now (after all, what could be more conventional than a Tony Ray-Jones show, even if you like his work). Cotton's version of Media Space also differed from the idea of a photography gallery promoted by Michael Wilson. But then Hannah Redler is a new media curator, not a photography specialist. What can it all mean? We'll just have to wait and see.


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