Two days – two BBC Radio 4 programmes. Today it’s Today – i.e. the flagship programme called Today. For the five minutes at the very end of the three hours this morning, there was a discussion about people taking photographs in art galleries between Brett Rogers, the Director of the Photographers Gallery, and Rachel Campbell-Johnson, Chief Art Critic of the Times.
BR: [At the Photographers Gallery] we have a fine balancing act between respecting the needs of the copyright holders and the conservation requirements of work, and also fulfilling our public remit in getting more people into museums, as, by allowing people to use their mobile phones to take images within our galleries, we are encouraging a deeper level of engagement, I believe. So the policy we have is, while we don’t allow flash or tripods to be used or any professional use within the gallery, we sanction the use of mobile phones for personal use only.
R C-J: I don’t think it will get more people in the gallery. It will drive people absolutely crazy having a line up of people using every painting or image as a photo opportunity and that will add to all the problems blockbusters bring which is when people complain about crowds. But the way to look at a work of art is not from a single fixed perspective which you take with a camera. The whole point of a painting or a sculpture is … in the case of a sculpture, you look at it in the round; in the case of a painting, you move inwards and outwards, you see how the brushwork works. The camera just takes it from a fixed point and you see it from one particular angle. You don’t see the work more deeply at all. You see it in a far more shallow way.
White Water Lilies – Claude Monet (1899)
Detail of White Water Lilies
(I took these photos in Moscow in February. They are here to illustrate that, in my opinion, it is possible to “move inwards and outwards” and “see how the brushwork works”.)
R C-J (continued): Quite apart from the fact that it seems to me an instant distancing of yourself from the work to lift up the camera. It means you don’t look at it. You just think I’ll file it away and look at it later – but you never do.
BR: Many institutions like the Reichsmuseum are putting high quality high resolution images on their websites to stop poor images being circulated on the internet. The National Portrait Gallery is also allowing a certain number of their images which are copyright cleared to have creative commons licences so that there are many imaginative responses recently which are addressing the problems Rachel is talking about.
But from my point of view, she has missed the main point which is that people come into galleries for a social experience these days as much as for an uplifting, emotional and spiritual experience. So that sharing their images of what they have experienced on their mobile phones is a way of creating a visual diary for them.
“We’ve seen Andy Warhol stuff at MoMA!”
R C-J: I don’t think a gallery is necessarily a social experience. Why does everything have to be brought down to the lowest common denominator? There are millions of places to go for a social experience, and why shouldn’t something be difficult and different and more complicated to come to terms with and why shouldn’t we be pushed and tested? It seems to me that this is reducing every thing to one particular experience when it could be a facet of a much richer experience even if it is more difficult to enjoy.
As I said in my About statement over a year ago, one of my concerns is losing the ephemera of art. Radio interviews and conversations are especially ephemeral. I have made a recording of this interview for my own purposes. Does anyone know how I can upload it for other people to hear?
I intend coming back to this subject as there are some interesting blogs and websites out there which discuss it.