Hampstead Garden Suburb collectors James and Claire Hyman have founded a new home for British photography in central London.

Housed in a former gentleman's tailors, the Jermyn Street venue offers three floors of exhibition space giving an overview of British photography, and showcasing the diversity of the art form.

Opening with three exhibitions on January 26, the 8,000 sq ft Centre for British Photography also houses a shop, research institute, and archive of the couple's 3,000 strong collection ranging from 1900 to the present, including works by Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, Jo Spence, Cecil Beaton, Hampstead's Dorothy Bohm, Matt Collishaw, Gilbert and George, Fay Godwin, Linda McCartney, Don McCullin, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor Johnson, and Keith Vaughan.

Ham & High: Children of the Gorbals by Bert Hardy 1948Children of the Gorbals by Bert Hardy 1948 (Image: Courtesy of the Centre For British Photography London)

Entry will be free. "This is a charity we have helped set up with other trustees, a public institution, we want it to be accessible for everyone," they said.

James is an art historian and dealer specialising in post-war British art, and Claire a facial surgeon at The Whittington Hospital. They started their collection in 1996, which grew organically from personal taste, and ranges from conceptual contemporary artworks, to historic documentary photographs.

"When you start, you think 'I want something for the living room' but at the end when you are not thinking about where it's going to go, and don't have space for it but are still buying, you know you are definitely a collector!" said Claire.

Although one of their aims was to make their collection accessible to the public, they hope the venue becomes a 'hub' championing work by photographers working in the UK today.

"What we mean by British doesn't mean passports, but practice in this country," says James. "Photography in Britain is some of the best in the world and we want to give it more exposure and support, to create a hub that increases it's national and international status."

The centre will "fill a void" he says.

"In the big institutions photography has to fight for its place alongside everything else. While The Photographer's Gallery puts on shows of photography, we are more focused in what we are doing and unique in having a collection we can draw from."

The programme of talks, events and workshops will bring together the UK's photographic community with regional museums, galleries and collectives offered exhibition space.Ham & High: James and Claire HymanJames and Claire Hyman (Image: Yan Morvan)

"We are open to suggestions from others about the shape of our programme," said James. "It's an important start that the opening show has been curated by an outside organisation and only two of the twelve artists come from our collection.

"We want to work collaboratively with other institutions and provide a venue for the interesting exhibitions happening in other parts of the country that don't make it to London."

Raised in Hampstead Garden Suburb, James developed a passion for art while attending UCS in Hampstead, and sought advice from former family neighbour the eminent art historian Ernst Gombrich.

"He lived in Highgate - I went to see him when I was 16, and he didn't tell me where to go but gave me good advice," says James later who became a tutor at The Courtauld Institute.

"Rather than go to art school I studed History of Art."

Ham & High: Thurston Hopkins, La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, 1953Thurston Hopkins, La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, 1953 (Image: Courtesy Centre for British Photography London)

The opening exhibitions include group show Headstrong; Women and Empowerment, self portraits by women exploring contemporary themes, and The English at Home exploring domestic photography from the 20th Century in the Hyman Collection.

Meanwhile Heather Agyepong's conceptual self portraits examine a Black presence in history, and Jo Spence's are a psychological exploration of trauma and memory.

The centre's deputy director Tracy Marshall-Grant said the programming would reflect "inclusivity and diversity," and support British photographers through "commissions, grants, exhibitions, acquisitions and sales.”Ham & High: Self Portrait with Pocket Square by Sarah MapleSelf Portrait with Pocket Square by Sarah Maple (Image: Courtesy the Centre for British Photography London)

James says that while many think of photography as black and white documentary photographs, they hope to show "a whole other take on what's happening in British photography".

"A lot of the most interesting work has moved on from that tradition, and is more subjective personal and autobiographical. Many of those we collect are in their 20s. We are trying to surprise people with our programme, offer a kaleidoscope of different facets of British culture."

Ham & High: Sensory Deprivation 2016 by Juno CalypsoSensory Deprivation 2016 by Juno Calypso (Image: Courtesy the Centre for British Photography London)

He adds that they don't have endless resources, and want other foundations, supporters and sponsors to help the centre become "independent and self-sustaining, with a dedicated National Collection and public programme.”

"We are setting it up but it's bigger than us. It isn't going to survive unless we get other people on board to make it viable long term. We want to demonstrate that there is all this potential, so many wonderful photographs and an audience to see them. This is an exciting thing to be involved in, come and join us."

The Centre for British Photography opens on January 26 at 49 Jermyn Street, London. https://britishphotography.org/