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How to Photograph Public Sculpture

The most photographed public sculpture in Melbourne is probably Larry La Trobe or The Three Businessmen… because of their potential for selfies. The most televised public sculpture in Melbourne is Lady Justice by William Eicholtz because there is a shot of it in almost every story on a County Court case.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I have some experience in photographing public sculpture for this blog. I did take a few of the photographs in my book Sculptures of Melbourne but most, like the cover photograph by Matto Lucas, were taken by professional photographers.

Here is some practical advice to people on photographing public sculpture and then some advice on copyright issues regarding photographing public sculpture in Australia. There isn’t any technical information and my only advice regarding equipment is a telephoto lens for sculptures high up on buildings.

To get a good photograph of a public sculpture you will probably need to visit the location twice to determine the best time of day to take the photograph as you can’t get the sculpture to turn to face the sun. It is pointless trying to photograph a sculpture with the sun behind it unless you just want its silhouette against the sky. Bronze sculptures on plinths are particularly difficult to photograph, but many modern and contemporary sculpture can be viewed and photographed from all angles.

However, just as you thought that sculptures stand still they are moved, or building works occur around them and they are fenced off, or they have been ‘capped’ by a tagger or sticker. The first time I went to photograph David Bell’s Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies just after it was installed in 2013, it was surrounded by fencing and there were workers rebuilding the corner. I had to hold my camera above my head to take some shots over the fencing. Not the best way to photograph a sculpture and so I returned a few weeks later.

Photographing a sculpture may involve cleaning up the site, removing rubbish wedged in parts of the sculpture and wipe the sculpture with a dry cloth to remove spider webs and dust. While photographing King’s Sun Ribbon at Melbourne University for my book Fiona Blandford had to remove the rubbish left behind by the builders working nearby.

In Australia you do not need copyright permission to publish photographs of sculptures that are permanently installed in a public location. The laws are different in other countries. For more on this see the Arts Law Centre of Australia, “Without my Permission: photographing public sculptures” by Jasmine McHenry.

In Australia you only need copyright permission from the artist to publish the photographs if the sculpture is temporary. This includes illegal temporary street art installations. So I had to track down every street artist whose sculptures that I wanted to have photographs of in the book, not exactly the easiest of tasks. Sometimes I felt like a detective working from an obscure clue: who was the street artist who signed his sculptures with GT? Determining if a sculpture is permanent or temporary may also be more complicated than the drafters of the law anticipated but I didn’t run into any problems with this with my book so I tried to err on the side of caution.

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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