It is curious when visiting art galleries and museums how diverse their photography policies are. The rules seem to be determined by how anal and old fashioned the institution is, rather than the preservation needs of the collection or the copyright and other issues related to the works and their histories.

In Australia the NSW Gallery has a clear policy displayed on its website and in the space on brochures – it is allowed without flash (this is very important). In contrast, the NGV in Victoria has an abstinence only policy. It says no photography at the venues but has no explanation on its website, despite having copyright and sketching policies.

A similar contrast exists between the Ballarat and Bendigo galleries in regional Victoria. Ballarat has a similar policy to NSW, and I carefully read the rules then happily snapped away without flash. Bendigo says no like the NGV. The result is that while Ballarat will get a glowing review in a future post. complete with many images, Bendigo got a curt visitor survey response form and no review here as I have nothing to show to base a discussion on.

I saw the Archibald Prize 2008 and the Fashion in the Age of Queen Victoria exhibition, but the permanent collection was disappointing.

The topic is much debated by art bloggers. One cynically claims the no photography policies exist to support the income from the gallery shops, which may sell less postcards if we could all easily take images home with us.

My view is if there are no conservation issues (fragility to light), or inconvenience to other visitors (which can be controlled by gallery staff), or copyright or intellectual property issues (items from private collections on temporary loan or indigenous items), then as a taxpayer I should be able to photograph works I help pay for.

In some cases the bans are excessively ironic and I sometimes sneak a peak in the NGV. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has a policy like the NSW gallery. It’s about common sense. It’s time for the NGV to wake up to the twenty-first century and embrace rather than alienate art lovers. Bendigo could then follow its lead.

visiting galleries and photographing art

2 thoughts on “visiting galleries and photographing art

  • 15 June 2008 at 12:21 pm
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    When I visited the Louvre earlier this year, I was surprised to find that you can pretty much photograph anything you like there without restriction. Even the Mona Lisa! Even with flash! (Mind you, the Mona Lisa – horrible painting, really – is behind some sort of impenetrable glass which no doubt protects it from light as well as grubby fingers and vandalism.)

    I find flash obnoxious at the best of times, but it was nice to be able to take a photo of the Mona Lisa’s bum.

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  • 27 June 2009 at 11:24 pm
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    After spending some time working through the vague instructions – which did initially seem like an ‘abstinence only policy’ as you put it – my current understanding is that you can take photos in most of the NGV without flash (at least in the International, I’ve not tried in Ian Potter). There are usually clear signs where it is not permitted – such as the Dali exhibition. I regularly take photos of the permanent collection, and have also photographed the Austen fashion show and the recent Chinese Robes show – though I do always check with the desk or the nearest guard just to be sure. It’s just a shame the ‘no mobile phones’ rule is not enforced! [http://melbournejeweller.wordpress.com/2009/05/20/ngv-photography-update/]

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