Exhibition: How to Win at Photography – Image-Making as Play

The Photographer's Gallery invites you to focus on the playful.

A woman's face with social media tattoos across it

A new multimedia exhibition exploring the relationships between photography, image-making and play.  The Photographer’s Gallery invites you to focus on the playful.


Above: Aneta Grzeszykowska, Selfie #10, 2014 © Aneta Grzeszykowska / Sammlung, Fotomuseum Winterthur

Featuring over 30 international artists and a rich assemblage of multimedia artworks and vernacular images representing a variety of positions across contemporary and twentieth century photography, How to Win at Photography attempts to question the very meaning and function of photography today.

Artists include Chinese contemporary artist, documentarian and activist Ai Weiwei; Polish multimedia artist Aneta Grzeszykowska; post-conceptual technology-based American artist Cory Arcangel; French surrealist photographer, sculptor and writer Claude Cahun; feminist artist, Cindy Sherman; German filmmaker, video artist, theorist and writer Harun Farocki; legendary American artist Ed Ruscha; Taiwanese visual artist John Yuyi and American photographer, painter and conceptual artist Sherrie Levine.

HTWAP_01 Yuyi John, Belly Button, 2018 © Yuyi John

Yuyi John, Belly Button, 2018 © Yuyi John

Yuyi John, Julia’s Twitter 1, 2016 © Yuyi John

Yuyi John, Julia's Twitter 2, 2016 © Yuyi John

Yuyi John, Julia’s Twitter 2, 2016 © Yuyi John

Photography is inherently playful, but the play is not free. There are rules that the photographer must master, skills to conquer, expectations to fulfil. The very circulation of images is now a trackable, surveilled, quantifiable process like everything else on the internet. Photographs receive a ‘score’ in the form of likes and reposts. They are instantly monetised, becoming part of a larger economic competition for attention in which gamified elements and score systems are increasingly influential.

Jon Haddock, Wang Weilin, from the series The Screenshots, 2000 © Jon Haddock

Gloria López Cleries and Sive Hamilton Helle, The Unreal, 2019– © Gloria López Cleries and Sive Hamilton Helle

Jon Haddock, Wang Weilin, from the series The Screenshots, 2000 © Jon Haddock

Tabor Robak, detail view from Rocks, 2011 © Tabor Robak

Tabor Robak, detail view from Rocks, 2011 © Tabor Robak

At the same time, photography is a fundamental part of today’s video game culture. Not only does it drive forward the photorealistic development of digital imaging; it offers ‘open worlds’, vast environments that can be explored and documented by virtual photographers.

Claude Cahun Self portrait (I am training don’t kiss me), 1927 © Jersey Heritage
Collections / Courtesy of the Jersey Heritage Collections

Alan Butler, MALL_TREES_BRANCHES01, 2019, from the series Virtual Botany Cyanotypes, 2016– © Alan Butler

How to Win at Photography is an open invitation to rethink photography through the act of playing with – and breaking – the rules of the game and to consider who is playing who.  It challenges visitors to consider such questions as:  Are we playing with the camera or is the camera playing us? What is our role within the system of photography? Are we mere pawns in a larger social and cultural network? What can a playful photographer realistically achieve? And, ultimately who can ‘win’ this game?


24th June – 25th September 2022 at The Photographer’s Gallery, London


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