Side Gallery, situated in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne, is a well-known photography gallery and photography archive that has stood as an enduring pillar of the photographic arts since its founding in 1977 by the Amber Film and Photography Collective. With a steadfast commitment to documentary photography and visual storytelling, Side Gallery is celebrated for its exploration of social, cultural, and political issues, showcasing the profound impact of this medium on personal, social, and cultural well-being.
The gallery's inception in 1977 emerged as a response to the Amber Collective's struggle against eviction from their Newcastle Quay premises. Rather than succumb to eviction, they purchased the space and Side Gallery was born, a dedicated haven for documentary photography.
Under the guidance of Director Ron McCormick, Side Gallery ascended as a major hub for British photography. It was a unique endeavour, born out of a workshop setting, and steered by photographers deeply committed to their values and the pressing concerns of their time. Serving a need for enhanced exhibition and distribution facilities in the North of England, Side Gallery seamlessly blended photography and film, enriched by lectures and seminars.
The 1980s saw the gallery evolve into a hub of activity, not just for exhibiting but also for commissioning photographers to tackle urgent issues. It forged international ties with renowned photographers such as Gilles Peress, Susan Meiselas, and Graciela Iturbide while introducing "Now" exhibitions addressing contemporary concerns. However, late 1980s funding cuts and shifting arts dynamics posed challenges.
In 2004, curator Kerry Lowes played a pivotal role in rejuvenating Side Gallery through innovative audience development and marketing strategies.
A turning point came in 2011 when Arts Council England altered funding options, leading to financial instability. Side Gallery relied on short-term grants, straining the team. They turned to the Heritage Lottery Fund, leading to transformative gallery renovations, archive digitization, and an engaging education programme. The gallery reopened in 2016, fostering a dialogue between historical and contemporary documentary practices.
Despite setbacks in 2022, a successful crowdfunding campaign secured Side Gallery's future. Today, though it remains temporarily closed, Side Gallery is expecting to re-open in 2024.