Nearly nine years ago in an eagerly anticipated appointment, Simon Baker stepped into post as Tate’s first dedicated photography curator. The announcement, and subsequent flurry of press coverage, both acknowledged and accentuated a longstanding disconnect between photography and other artforms within the institution, echoes of an archaic hierarchy ringing out throughout its galleries.
Tate’s recent curatorial appointments (compare with those in western photography epicentres New York and Paris), along with an updated programming and display ethos demonstrated its renewed commitment to the medium. Tate went on to stage a total of 17 major exhibitions addressing photographic practice from 2009-2018, increasing from only 10 in the twenty years prior. An acquisitions committee was established in 2010, where its work helped the museum to quadruple its photographic holdings in just four years.
Simon leaves for pastures new as director for the Maison Europeene de la Photographie in Paris. His is not Tate’s only recent departure— the other half of the institution’s much admired photo duo announced their departure only two weeks earlier, initiating a substantial shake-up of the department, but not before they had cemented photography’s place in the galleries. “The need to continually push and argue for photography, this argument has been won at Tate” asserts Simon, however he still believes there is more work to be done for photography beyond Tate, a task and responsibility for London's wider art ecosystem.
Words: Laura Norman
Portraits: Phil Hewitt