Friday, March 23, 2007

Taking Pictures in Galleries

Blogger and cultural connoisseur James Wagner, who (with Barry Hoggard) probably does more to help publicize the artwork and exhibitions of emerging artists in New York than all the MSM publications combined, raised an interesting question on his blog about restricting photograpy in galleries:

This is a true story (only the names have been withheld, for considerations of privacy and copyright):

A young artist is chosen to be in a group show at a respectable small non-profit space.

An appreciative and enthusiastic art blogger captures an image of the artist's work installed in that space and publishes it on his site.

On a return visit to the space months later the blogger is told by people in charge that photographs are not allowed at any time.

The blogger ceases to photograph any artists' work in that space.

Two years after the image of the young artist's work appeared on the blogger's site a major museum in another city writes to him asking if it could have permission to use it in publicity materials being prepared prior to a solo show it has scheduled of the artist's work, since there is no other photograph of the piece available.

The blogger suspects that the piece itself may no longer physically exist, thus explaining the importance of his photograph.

What does the blogger do in this case, and in the larger scheme of things, what does this scenario say about our cultural institutions' photography restrictions generally?
I'm not sure what it says about our cultural institutions' photography restrictions generally, but I know what it says about that non-profit space's documenting practices. (Full disclosure: I feel free to say this because we're not always the best at documenting our exhibitions either [something on my "do better" list], but then we don't discourage bloggers from taking photos.)

And I guess that's the issue here. What are/should be the guidelines for taking photographs in galleries. We have a fairly liberal policy. We appreciate being asked (and have, on occassion, asked someone who didn't ask to stop if we're not sure who they are), but we welcome bloggers and other media folks to snap away. (Why not, they're hopefully going to post the images and that helps us advertize the show.) For a non-profit space to object to free advertizing, well, I don't get it at all (feel free to enlighten me).

I should note, that there are some restrictions with some work in our space. One of our artists photographs his sculptures, and those photographs also comprise his artwork. In that case, we prefer folks not to photograph the work (at least not from the same vantage points [close-up] the artist works from). Also, if taking photos would disrupt the viewing experience of other visitors, we ask the requester to wait.

Now I fully understand copyright concerns and context concerns, but I'm curious if anyone can recount an episode where a photograph taken in a gallery actually hurt the artist or their career (i.e., in particular their rights to profit from said piece).

In general, I see press as press. And press with pix is the best press there is. It has yet to bite us in the ass.

Other galleries? Any reason I should reconsider this position?

Labels: photography in galleries


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless the art looks like it could be sold as posters on the Princess cruise line gift shop, at a huge profit, I don't see why photographs would not be permitted.

Or are photographer's worried about a clear photograph of their own photo, to then be passed off as the original..on ebay....pretty fat chance.

3/23/2007 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

It's an antiquated approach, there was a time when artists guarded their work from being photographed. I think with regular film the spirit of the work would be stolen, kind of like losing it's mojo. But with digital photography that no longer is a problem, thanks mojo protecting software.
I recently asked an artist if I could take a few shots of his work to go with a post and he said no. I couldn't understand his reluctance (foolishness) so I didn't mention his show. It's old school thinking, period. The point is to get the work out there and the web is loaded with opportunities. Set the work free!

3/23/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Carla said...

Are you asking "what decision should I/artists make about this"? Or are you asking if you/artists have the right to make this decision?

3/23/2007 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think a gallery has the right to set whatever policy it wants regarding photography in their space. What I'm asking is whether not restricting it can have consequences that might make me reconsider how liberal our policy is. In other words, what, realistically speaking, harm can it do? I'm not sure any potential problem is large enough to deny the artist/artwork the press. There are other avenues by which to resolve copyright infringements, should any occur. Preventively resolving them (at the cost of loss press) seems unwise to me.

3/23/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous dannielynn's daddy said...

I gotta get me some a that mojo-protecting software. Is it Mac-compatible?

3/23/2007 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I think your position is very reasonable. I practically always ask before taking photos. The only exception is when the gallery is so much like a Wal-Mart in terms of size and impersonal affect that the thought of asking the indifferent gum-cracker at the front desk for anything seems ludicrous.

Another benefit of asking is that sometimes the gallery will offer to email you pics of the work. Saves time and often the emailed pics are of a higher quality than I can take with my ratty little point-and-shooter.

3/23/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

What I'm asking is whether not restricting it can have consequences that might make me reconsider how liberal our policy is.

I think the only harm of restricting photos is losing any publicity you might gain from advocates and enthusiasts like Wagner. You have to decide whether free publicity is more of an advantage than potential publication rights.

I wonder if the correct solution is to post a clear notice that all photos are allowed during normal business hours as long as gallery patrons are not inconvenienced, and publication copyrights are retained by artist and/or gallery. (I'm not a copyright expert; I'm just thinking out loud).

Or you might do the same thing public parks do to discourage professional photographer from taking wedding photos without permission, which is, "no tripods without a license."

3/23/2007 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

I've had artists ask me not to photo their new work when I do studio visits, mainly because they want the opportunity to show the work publicly before someone has a chance to steal their idea. But once work is in a public setting, then I don't see why you wouldn't want publicity.

Your policy sounds very reasonable to me.

3/23/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think prohibiting pictures is a means of possession and ownership that a gallery has over the artwork. Same reasons you quote texts and provide footnotes for an essay. It doesn't necessarily do the gallery any harm nor do an author harm if I quote their writing but ultimately is just an abstract moralistic endeavor of human desire and possession.

3/23/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous HouseOfRats said...

Let me be the first to say this kind of photograpy is often bad, bad, bad!
(Unless its good.)

I think if a blogger (or any other interested party) likes an artwork on view in the gallery, they can go to the gallery's (or artist's) website--there's a big huge chance that excllent quality downloadable images are probably available there.
I, for one, do not want poor quality snap shots of my work posted on a blog when good images are readily available.

3/23/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

It's hard to describe just how important being able to take pictures in places like Pittsburgh and also a lot of the more obscure places that Barry and James are great enough to visit. It's pretty rare that the non profit has documented the show well online and there is also a good chance that blog coverage may be the only press or only non local press the show may get.

I think that asking is pretty much mandatory and common sense, since the policy may change depending on the show. Also making sure the flash is off is also important.

One obvious thing that non profits and galleries need to do is ask each artist what they want to allow and ask them to sign some simple release for simple informal photography and press shots.

3/23/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

My show is up for another week here in Santa Monica (it's been extended to March 31), and I'd like to invite anyone who wants to to take photos. If you like you can pose with the work (just don't ask it to smile), or even just use it as a backdrop. If you take any wedding photos there, please send me copies, and I'll put them in my press kit.

3/23/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous martin said...

this is a relevant topic for me... i take photos in museums and galleries all the time, and post them on my blog.

i never ask, and have never had a gallery ask me to stop, but often am asked to stop at various museums. if asked to stop, i just try to be more sneaky. and, i am using a cellphone camera... so the quality is not so good. but if i think the picture taken does not capture the quality that made me want to take it in the first place, i don't use that picture.

the guards at the hight times, hard times show, at the weatherspoon in nc, would not allow pictures.. so we had to use lookouts. i actually ended up making two posts on that show (it was very good), and coincidentally one of the posts only uses my cellphone photos, and the other post only uses photos lifted from the internet. yes, there is definitely a difference in quality, but the cellphone photos were much better in relaying a sense of scale... and had other good qualities. sometimes, the color is even better, believe it or not.

the most frustrating experience was being asked not to take photos of richard pettibones work at the tang museum, in saratoga ny. it was so frustrating because so much of pettibone's own photo-realist work from the seventies was made from polaroids he had taken at museums and galleries. he took photos of work by his contemporaries, as well as polaroids of work by artists like eakins, gerome, and ingres. these polaroids of paintings, often taken at extreme and odd angles, were then reproduced exactly, including the white border of the polaroid photograph.

in fact, the label by the work stated -

"these tiny, exquisite paintings reiterate art history's reliance on photography to propigate our knowledge about painting."

the tang attendants are really on the ball, so i never got any photos from that show.. and one of the two posts i made was critical of the museum and its hypocritical policy.. i would really rather have just been allowed to take photos and talk about how much i love pettibone.

i have never been contacted by an artist or instituition asking me to remove an image, but i have been contacted both by people requesting further information or contact info for an artist, and also heard from a few artists telling me that they were contacted and asked to participate in shows as a result of someone seeing a photo of their work on my blog.

sorry, this is too long.

3/23/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

We maintain a very strict policy, and I am absolutely kidding here. No one may remember work seen in my gallery in any way. You are free to enjoy the work while at the gallery but do not take away any recollection at all. It is the only way to protect the artist's intellectual property. Unless the artist is not an intellectual, of course. In which case sketches and verbal descriptions are allowed if rendered by a professional such as a comedian or cartoonist.

Please leave your frontal lobes with the attendant before entering the viewing area, Thank you.

3/23/2007 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

While working in small fashion boutique store in Soho, we would always ask tourists, and other people who would try take pictures of our window, not to take any pictures. I guess because of competition. Fashion is totally different industry.

And in my opinion it’s different issue in art world. First of all everyone should ask just to be polite if they can take pictures. And yes art galleries and museums should let them take pictures as much as they can. Even though the art industry is very comparative, still each piece of art is unique and special. And it’s a free advertising option for galleries and museums. Not everyone could have possibility to come to see the show, or time to visit gallery and museum. But reading from blogs or newspaper about the show and see pictures, or looking at the pictures your friend took at the show, will make possible to sell artist work, or at least to known artist name, or bring curiosity about the artist work.

And if museum or galleries have a different policy about taking pictures I would respect that. I don’t think it will help for artist if the museum or gallery will prohibited taking pictures from the show.

3/23/2007 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't generally take photos for my blog; if a work of art interests me, I can usually find a much better photo of it online at the gallery, or anyway one representative piece that works for my review, and steal it shamelessly. Very occasionally I can't get good images, but that's always been for student work or work I didn't care about anyway.

Except for Kelli Williams, whose work is incredible, but really, really poorly represented on the Web. So today I took my cheaper digital camera with the macro feature and took a few photos to post in a follow-up review. Wait until you see them!

These days I'm getting about 200 hits a day, almost all of them through Google's image search. My site has apparently become something of a resource. Which is part of my intention: I wanted at least one image connected with each artist's name somewhere fairly permanent on the Web. Because galleries may leave the images up until they decide their site is out of fashion and then lose the images when they redesign.

No one's contacted me to ask me to remove their images. I worry that there are copyright issues; keep in mind that you can lose copyright if you don't protect it, which may explain why some galleries refuse to allow photographs. They know that no individual photo is harmful, but may be concerned about establishing a pattern of letting copyrights slip, in which case they may lose the ability to enforce their copyrights.

But I'm no legal scholar or anything, so I don't know.

3/23/2007 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous dannielynn's daddy said...

what's this about losing your copyright if you don't enforce it? does anyone know more about this?

3/23/2007 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there should be SOME concern about letting anyone and everyone take photos when they want. There are industries out there that mine the artworld for the next big thing, and often their assimilation of artist's work into their industry undermines and devalues the artists work (remember Bridget Riley's roller coaster career dive). I love blogs, but a gallery, museum, whoever, does have the right to express concern when some stranger walks in and starts clicking away. Some folks can't be trusted. I know. I worked with people who did this exact thing.

3/23/2007 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

This is one of my favorite topics.

Personally I do take pictures when I can, but I never post them. I figure I should have the right to take pictures, but to post them I should ask first, so then if I choose to talk about the art, I will link to (the very bad) gallerist's photographs.

I do am pissed off by artists who let the artworld be the way it is, so uptight.

Some artists don't like that people photograph their art. Somehow they want control. They believe somewhere in their dellusion that this control will last. But hey...even Mickey Mouse couldn't get copyrighted for an extension of more of 20 years.

When people take photographs of your art, it doesn't "devalue" the original. On the contrary it pays homage to it. It gets known and chances art you will be able to sell it for higher in the future.

As far as quality control of reproductions: be real. No one is doing a catalog of your art, and if they do, then you can sue (and get more money than simple dividendes). Art Magazines are poor. They're not stealing an artist money by publishing a photo and talking about your art. Of course they are contexts, like diffamation, etc, where some artist could get mad, but let's not exaggerate on cases that must be very rare.

Also, if you fear someone stealing your idea, one can do this by taking notes or making a sketch. I'm not sure I understand why an artist would present art if they would be so afraid of where it would land. Most people want a picture of art simply because they cannot afford to buy it. If your art is good, someone will buy it eventually. If it sucks, no one is going to take a picture.

In the end this issue is very much political. If I'm ever being exhibited in a heavy guarded-museum, I will post a panel allowing everyone to take pictures, or even have the guards take a day off.

I would indeed not allow studio photos are there is no reason to leek something that is not ready yet.

I want to end with a case where I met problems:

At the Remote Viewing show at the Whitney Museum, I remember being very frustrated by the catalog. They were showing only a small portion of the show, which included
a few onsite installations. I asked gently if I could take photographs of the installations to whoever was in charge for press, claiming there was no repro anywhere that I could find (including in magazines or on the web). They said No. Then I asked if there was any way to pay the museum to get copies of reproductions of the installation photographs. I wanted this to be done the most honest possible. But I kept knocking a dead wall. It's like the museum does keep archives, but no one can access them.

I thought that was really unfair. I think if one is ready to pay for
a slide of a museum archive, we should be able to get it. I wonder what an artist like Ackermann thinks about this issue. Does he really mean to have his work not reproduced anywhere, but on the wall of the private collector who owns them? That could be. But that's not very encouraging, neitheir for his fans, neither for other collectors who'd probably like to get pictures of the other works.

I think's it's about making life difficult where there is no argument to make it be this difficult. It's basically.."not nice".


Cedric Caspesyan

3/23/2007 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>their assimilation of artist's >>>work into their industry >>>undermines and devalues the >>>artists work

You seriously think that preventing photograph will prevent an industrialist from stealing an art idea ?????!!

In fact, you are giving art a LOT of credit here. Generally art is late on industrial design. Like..when you observe really well, it's generally more the case of Ellsworth Kelly being inspired by coca cola design.

Haha I would lovvee to see an artist's art being devalued by industrial design more than an art trend or their own lack of inspiration and repetition.


Cedric Caspesyan
Cedric Caspesyan

3/23/2007 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Bert Green said...

I don't have any issue with people taking pictures in the gallery as long as they ask permission. Usually the photos are taken for personal reasons; someone sees a piece that they like and want to be able to look at it later, perhaps to buy it or because they can't otherwise afford it.

I agree with other posters that the gallery probably has a better image on their site, and certainly for blogging or press purposes that's a good solution, but there are a lot of people out there for whom shooting pictures as they conduct their day is a pleasant way to mark their progress.

Because my gallery is located in an "up and coming" area, we get a lot of visitors who do not have the means to buy art. I encourage them to take pictures, after all part of our mission is educational, as well as commercial, even though we are not a non-profit.

3/23/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

If I was a gallerist and saw an image on a website that I reallllyyy didn't like, I would simply write "hey, I don't mind you took picture for your personal use, but could you please take it off the web...". I think there is the difference between personal use and publishing. There are two very separate things.

But the very reason of this extra post is this: does anyone think the Whitney should publish a post-biennial catalog? Or at least publish post-facto pictures of installations on the web, like some other biennials do?? (Montreal, for example)

Many works at the Whitney Biennial are made onsite, and ther catalog is more like a huge advertisement than a real document. It would be nice for all artists involved if they published some archive.

Cedric Caspesyan

3/23/2007 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

The issue in smaller "markets" and non profits is that they often don't have images on their site. That's the nice thing in NY galleries-- if your camera sucks ( like mine) or dies - you can rely on there being something online.

The general thing that motivates museums is first they have an obligation to protect the works from stuff like damaging camera flashes. Also, I think there is just a cover my ass fear of not having a release for every artist they might be showing. A lot of time they allow photraphs of their collection but not special shows.

Jonathan Borofsky, who was just showing at the Carnegie left special instructions to allow photography of his work.

3/23/2007 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>Jonathan Borofsky, who was just >>showing at the Carnegie left >>special instructions to allow >>photography of his work.

Glad to heart that !
Cool artist No 1 !

I'm sad I couldn't attend his last show at Deitch.

Cedric Caspesyan

3/23/2007 07:48:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

oh, i forgot a good story about this, from my perspective as an artist.

i was in a show in troy ny, which was a sort of big deal for me (winkleman's artist joanne carson was also one of the artists)... i had a lot of stuff in the show, and i in fact never saw it because i was out of the country the whole time.

shortly after the show was hung i was sent a release form, somebody wanted to film in the gallery, they needed the artists to sign a release. i did, no problem. completely forgot about it.

later that year, back in the states, as a guest at a farmhouse in orange county ny, i was alone in the room flipping through tv channels, hit on the sci-fi channel out of nyc, a commericial for a radio station came on... it was advertised as the station to listen to while you work.. they had a waitress dancing around a restaurant, businessman dancing around the office, and then a guy dancing around a sparkling clean white space, and there was one of my paintings!! except it was HUGE in relation to the dancing guy and super-bright space, and one of the only things in the space. i seriously thought i had lost my mind, i had completely forgotten about signing that release... and this looked like no show i had ever participated in.

i sat glued in front of the tv for the rest of the night hoping that commercial would come back on.. thankfully it did. finally put it together that the painting featured was one of those included in the troy show, and remembered the release... in making the commercial they isolated the painting and dropped it into some other space, or something.

i like to think of my paintings having adventures and stories, and am very happy that i was lucky enough to stumble across that commercial (and have reality warp for a bit); my only complaint is that after seeing the commercial i e-mailed the station asking for a copy of the commercial, or the contact info for whomever to ask... but even after three e-mails, nobody ever got back to me. i gave up.

the station was CD10-19, or CD101.9, something like that.

so, what is my point.. not sure. sorry, another long comment.

3/23/2007 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Well, the unfair point is that they asked for a release but did not mentioned it was for a commercial use.

There should be specific releases for commercial use, or it should mention on the release that the images should not be used for commercial use.

This sort of example will get everyone scared, but I presume it must be rare. I don't think that if Chrysler asked release to shoot images at a Matthew Barney retrospective, than that should imply they could use it in the TV ad for their next car.

But I would not prevent people take photographs because of eccentric cases. I would trust law to help re-establish "savoir vivre". In a sense, suing the really nasty case can get you extra money, if it's really really

(I mean, this one makes you look like you endorse the radio station, I really wonder what these guys told the gallerist when they took the advise is: when it's 2 or 3 people (a group) that are asking, and they have big pro cameras, chances
are something is not right)


Cedric Caspesyan

3/23/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

Someone should put an invisible show up at an invisible location and invite the invisible bunny.
Good story. I read it over the other way.

3/23/2007 08:56:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

cedric - no, i knew it was for commercial use, only no specifics beyond that... sorry i wasn't clear.

also, i am not upset with the experience at all..

except i wish i had a copy.

3/23/2007 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should all worry about people taking pictures of your art.

Advertising agencies are stealing left and right your work (style and everything). More often than you think....

Already, one work wonder, Eve Sussman from Brooklyn is a victim.

Have you seen the commercial?


3/24/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Artists Clifton Mallery and Amnau Karam Eele are suing NBC for ripping off their work for the tv series heroes.

3/24/2007 07:23:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane said...

martin -

I would be very upset if my work were used as advertising for some product without my knowledge. (I'm a little extreme about this; I won't wear clothing that has GAP or any other corporate logo plastered all over it. Why should I be a walking (and UNPAID) advertisement for some multinational corporation?) Advertising is big business - people get paid a lot to write and produce it, so not only are you getting ripped off by not being paid, you (your work, so by extension, you) are endorsing a product that you may not want to publically endorse.

3/25/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous martin said...

oriane - they didn't rip me off, i gave permission for the mysery commercial... but i understand what you're saying.

my feeling isn't that i did free advertising for them, but that they did free advertising for me. i mean seriously, that painting is sitting in a storage locker.. it isn't like i have a waiting list.

do you guys know about that paul chan case? i'm not sure if case is the right word... that would have really pissed me off.

plus... did you all see paddy's related post on the tate not getting reproduction rights to a warhol brillo box because of copyright restrictions?

3/25/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently got a lot of publicity for one of my pieces, and lots of people discovered my site as a result. When I track my web hits, I find that the folks at Ogilvy have been been visiting with great frequency & depth.
It is hard to know what to do about protecting yourself when you want to get the work out there as much as posssible.

3/26/2007 01:19:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

dannielynn's daddy sez:
what's this about losing your copyright if you don't enforce it? does anyone know more about this?

There's a legal concept called laches, which basically boils down to, if you don't enforce your copyright or patent for long enough, you give up your rights to do so. The idea is any suits must be brought within a timely manner.

3/26/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

John Morris is right -- this prohibition started with museums worried that art would get damaged from flashbulbs. When I worked as a museum publicist, I was always locking horns with the curators who didn't want photographers (or, heaven forfend, TV cameras) to use lights.

3/26/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Future Trash said...

I work for an international wire news service (we distribute articles and photos for other publications to buy and publish in their magazines and papers) and I can't tell you how many times we pass on sending exhibition photos with the story because of "Artists Rights Society ©" type of legal scary stuff embedded in the photo. It's a total loss to the institutions holding the exhibitions because the review/article often won't get picked by other publications without the photos. Any gallery or museum sending out publicity photos should, at the very least, state that the photos can be used in regards to the exhibition they were released for. Without we stay far away so as to avoid future lawsuits (some artists trusts are incredibly litigious - like Al Hirschfeld for example),

3/26/2007 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...


You have to be wrong on this one.

Do you really think a publicist agent who sees an Eve Sussmann work need a photograph if they want to replicate her style in a tv ad???

On the contrary, if images of Sussmann are shared, people will remember her. Otherwise, they will only remember the tv.

Artists have no choice but to fight on the terrain of consumer design, get heir ideas out there, otherwise they will always get eaten by bad designers.

And by the way, Sussmann is one big copycat there. Is making old painting come to life on film such a first and original idea? Wrong example. She's already dealing with images that are sourced in common consciousness.


Cedric Caspesyan

3/27/2007 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

How do you track your web hits?
I can only see the number of hits per day, not the their a secret to this or is it your website carrier company that allows that function? Which one is it?

Can you see individual people who visited it?
I always thought that was a rumor, I'm shocked!

3/27/2007 10:17:00 AM  

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