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Permanent collection


© Musée de la Photographie

One museum, two buildings

The not-for-profit organisation Photographie Ouverte was founded in 1978 and immediately began collecting photographs and photographic equipment with a view to setting up a museum. The success of the 1st International Triennial of Photography in 1980 marked a decisive moment for the Gallery of the Museum of Photography. Exhibitions followed and in April 1987 the Museum of Photography was set up in the former Carmelite monastery of Mont-sur-Marchienne. Opening up to the public a place that was once entirely cut off from the outside world posed an interesting challenge. How could we bring together temporary exhibitions and permanent collections in a former Carmelite monastery? An initial redevelopment phase in 1995 helped to adapt the monastery to its new role as a museum. The idea of a new wing gained momentum and finally came to fruition on 1st June 2008. The museum remained a single institution, but was now housed in two buildings.

One collection, two approaches

The collection is made up of the Museum’s own acquisitions, donations and works on loan and is constantly growing. Today we are home to 80,000 prints and 3 million negatives. How could we create a journey through nearly 800 photographs that would reflect the richness and diversity of our collections? A selection that would cover the entire history of photography from the 19th century to the present day? A collection that would reveal the diversity of artistic expression at an international level, while giving prominence to the work of Belgian artists? These questions inspired us to create a journey that is both united and divided, chronological and thematic, which snakes through the rooms of this neogothic Carmelite monastery and the new modern wing. Because photography is all about the eyes.


© Musée de la Photographie

A chronological display was vital to show photography from the very first 19th century daguerreotypes up to the 1970s. The rooms beside the cloister on the ground floor of the monastery and the corridor leading to the former Carmelite cells on the next floor are a fitting backdrop to this historical overview that covers all of photography’s leading figures. From the early 1980s onwards, photography branched out in many different directions and we therefore had to think carefully about how modern works should be exhibited. The new wing is home to representative works from the last 30 years, in a collection that reflects their different approaches, eras and formats. The photographs are grouped together thematically and themes are changed on a regular basis. The choice of themes is guided by the images themselves, which allows us to combine old favourites, new acquisitions and sure-fire hits from the collections. In looking both to the past and the future, the collection is constantly being recreated and this is reflected in the visitor’s journey through the Museum. The subtle dividing line between temporary and permanent is maintained and the same photographer can be exhibited at different points in the collection, depending on the historical or thematic perspective. Taken as a whole, the way in which the collections are presented does not impose just one single journey, but rather opens up different possibilities to visitors, allowing them to truly make each visit their own.


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