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.
Photography isn’t allowed in the antique libraries in Dublin. And then there is Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) 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. But I’m interested in the variety of gallery practices around the world and I notice that the policy on photography does vary across galleries.
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 my blog. But it’s 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 in Melbourne, will supply photographs free to bloggers. I go around with a light -weight digital camera strapped to my belt; it sure is different to 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.