Five photography exhibitions you must see this summer

This summer we are looking at life through the lens of some of London’s most exciting photographers. Whilst it is often paintings and sculptures that are the stars of the show in the art world, photography is often overlooked. Photography is not an imitation or interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it, belonging to its subject like no other art form – capturing emotion and reality with a starkness that could be argued as the very core of the aesthetic experience of art – one of the many reasons we want to shine a light on some London’s most exciting upcoming photography exhibitions.

Illustrating a blog on photography exhibitons to see in London in 2021.
Image by Antenna on Unsplash.

1. John Akomfrah: The Unintended Beauty of Disaster. 13 April – 5 June 2021

Lisson Gallery, tucked away in a corner of Marylebone, specialises in contemporary art. The work of pioneering filmmaker and artist John Akomfrah is a perfect fit, characterised by a questioning of our collective consciousness – examined with an alien naivety that re-frames pertinent social, cultural and political issues and forces the viewer to rethink some of our unquestioned, widely accepted historical narratives. Most strikingly this exhibition features work that explores the Black Lives Matter protests and the widespread objection to the imperialist monuments and statues that prior to the movement stood for hundreds of years unchallenged. The exhibition centres around a new three-screen video installation and photo-text works, and has not only been praised for adding a new perspective, but also for its refusal to airbrush history, allowing for a real and honest conversation about a post-colonial and anti-racist society to emerge.   

Lisson Gallery, 67 Lisson Street, Marylebone, London. Free to enter, advance booking required. Discover more.

2. JR: Chronicles, Saatchi Gallery. 4 June – 3 October 2021

Saatchi gallery, on Chelsea’s infamous King’s Road, will host the largest ever solo show of Parisian photographer JR. As a self-described ‘photograffeur’ – a graffiti artist and fine-art photographer hybrid – flyposting large black-and-white photographs on the streets has become his signature, with JR boldly declaring the streets as, ‘the largest gallery in the world’. JR’s work is characterised by its provocative and subversive nature, challenging widely held preconceptions and reductive images perpetuated by the media and advertising industries. The exhibition will cover the artist’s most renowned projects from the last fifteen years of his career.

Saatchi Gallery, Kensington, London. Booking details here.

3. James Barnor: Accra/ London – A retrospective. 19 May – 22 October 2021

This retrospective of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor’s work captures his six decades behind the lens, covering two continents and blending photojournalism with portraiture, editorial commissions and wider social commentary. Barnor’s photography career started as a teenager when a teacher handed him a ‘Kodak Baby Brownie’ camera, one year later he sidelined his plans to become a police officer and apprenticed with a local portrait photographer. Aged 91, Barnor’s work is praised for documenting major social and political changes. His early career photojournalism featured black and white images of local life in Ghana and documenting social change as Ghana achieved independence from Britain.

Serpentine North Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London. Free entry, but book a timeslot in advance. Find out more.

4. Mohamed Bourouissa, at Goldsmiths CCA. 21 May – 1 August

Goldsmiths CCA is one of London’s newest contemporary art institutions and provides a space for emergent practices. Algerian artist, Mohamed Bourouissa, is currently featured with his first solo survey in a UK public institution. Bourouissa’s work documents contemporary society and critiques the mass media age, often documenting those at the fringes of society – the disenfranchised and disillusioned – who have been ‘left behind at the crossroads of integration and exclusion’. The multi-disciplinary exhibition will feature photography, sound, installation and moving images artworks.

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, St James, London. Free entry, advance booking required. Discover more.

5. Photo London.  9 September – 12 September 2021 (advance booking available from June)

This is a regular fixture in the Hurtwood calendar so we’re looking forward to the return of Photo London this September. The exhibition is back in the grand surroundings of Somerset House and will welcome some of the worlds’ leading and emerging galleries, artists and art dealers for its sixth edition of the Photo London Art Fair. New emerging photographers will feature in the artists discovery section, and the exhibition will be filled with events, talks and special exhibitions (online too for those who can’t make it). Expect to see photography which pushes the boundaries of its medium.

Somerset House, Strand, London. Find out more about the exhibition here.