“No flash! No flash!” In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the gallery attendants are chanting “no flash!” at the tour groups. Now that everyone has a camera someone’s bound to have forgotten to turn their flash off. Some people are filming their entire visit to the gallery, others are using the zoom as binoculars to look closer at the paintings. At a certain point the number of cameras in a gallery becomes a spectacle in itself and a distraction from the exhibition.
There is no photography in the antique libraries in Dublin. And then there is MONA’s policy on photography which is strange “Still photography for personal use is allowed. No flashes or tripods, please. No videos or photographs may be reproduced, distributed, sold or displayed on personal websites without our permission. Buy a postcard.”
I understand the conservation reasons for no flash photography – strong light will fade pigments. I understand the basics of copyright law of images and the reasons why copyright might apply to unique expressions of an idea. I am interested in the variety of gallery practices around the world and I notice that the policy on photography does vary across galleries. (I have written about this before in a post in 2008 about the NGV’s policy on sketching and taking notes.)
A museum or galleries policy on photography is not simply about insurance, copyright, security and protection of the collection, it defines the purpose and use of the museum’s collection. The Frick Collection in New York allowed photography briefly in early 2014 but then reversed this policy worried about the damage that inattentive photographers focused on their camera screen might accidentally damage some of the collection.
Why do people want take photographs in an art gallery? I know why I want to: images for this blog, not that I always take them I am not one of the bloggers who regularly takes photos at gallery openings or documents the whole exhibition with photographs. It is not easy to take good photographs of art and many artists and galleries would prefer not to have their art represented in bad photos so I am grateful that some galleries, like RMIT Gallery will supply photographs free to bloggers (thanks RMIT Gallery staff for your help over the years). I go around with a light weight digital camera strapped to my belt; it is sure is different from hauling my old Soviet Zenit around.
Photography is part of everyday life now and people are increasingly trying to capture something of that life in the camera. With digital cameras there are few delays in processing and distributing; we can bore our friends in small doses over Facebook later that day.
For more on this subject Mark Sheerin explores some of the issues of photography and the variety of gallery policies in “Gallery Photo Policy Versus The Aura of the Artwork” in Hyperallegic.