Why can’t we take photos in galleries?

I don’t understand copyright laws at the best of times but I can understand why content owners are nervous about piracy. In the old days when I taped a new album from a mate onto a C90, or sat by the radio so I could record my favourite track,  the quality of the reproduction was pretty terrible. Now electronic copies of music or movies are often identical to the original media. But let’s put music and video to one side. What about art? What about textiles? What about ceramics? What about jewellery? Clearly if I take a photo of a piece of artwork at an exhibition, or a piece of jewellery at a degree show no one is ever going to mistake my photo for the original. Let’s try an experiment. Is this a photo of a Patrick Heron stained glass window or is it the real thing?

There, that was easy. So why ban photography?

I can see why one would ban flash photography – that would be very annoying for those reflecting on the pieces on display. I can also imagine that cash strapped galleries might want to charge for a photography permit – I’d pay.

I’m not saying that galleries should be forced to allow photography (though if the artwork was acquired with public money I would be tempted to force them). Clearly in a private space one has the right to prevent photos being taken. But why do it? It is frustrating for those of us who enjoy capturing things we enjoy either to help us remember them or to try and see them from some new and creative angle.

Some galleries are great – friends in New York have said that most galleries allow photography, and the V&A seems to have a wonderfully enlightened policy. But then on the other end I was amazed that several of the recent degree shows I visited banned photography. For example I loved the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design show, and put together a trip report for colleagues at work and used the report as a blog post here. I focused on the Communications Design Masters. In truth this was because I love their work, but it helped that you were allowed to take pictures. It made explaining what was hot, what was the zeitgeist, etc much much easier. I also visited the jewellery section as a colleague was interested to know what CSM students were producing (he’d enjoyed the jewellery RCA students had produced last year). So can I show him my favourite piece? Yes, here it is:


Well the less said about my sketching skills the better. But photographing it was a no-no:

(N.B. The jeweller, Clio Alphas, has some wonderful photos of this piece on her flickr stream if you do want to see why I liked the necklace she’d designed so much: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23358770@N05/2518700286/)

I had the same problem at the RCA show. Some designers let you take photos despite the sinage but others didn’t. This was especially frustrating in the fabrics section where I saw some great things that I’d have loved to have shared. One designer had made a fabulous fabric that combined geometric patterned thick felt with fluorescent plastic squares  matching the pattern, but slightly offset. Inevitably I’m struggling to describe the piece without a picture. The designer felt that allowing photos would enable people to steal her ideas; but I feel the buzz created by people discussing your work online far outweighs the potential for espionage.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: