I am confused. I am very confused. I believe in the copyright of photographs, but I’m confused by the inconsistency of museums and galleries.
I visited the Paul Strand exhibition at the V&A in May and was horrified when an overzealous guard rushed up to a diminutive visitor standing next to me to berate her about taking a photograph with her iPhone and stood over her whilst she expunged the image from her ‘phone. Later that same day I was at the Barbican viewing the Martin Parr curated exhibition Strange and Familiar, when a uniformed girl rushed up to me – I thought I was on fire, but no – it was to tell me that I couldn’t take photos with my ‘phone. The next day I visited the Photo London show in Somerset House where there were no restrictions on photographing the hundreds of displayed images, which included a repeat of images from the V&A and Barbican exhibitions; confusing? On my return home I was reviewing the venues I had visited and noticed a photo of Martin Parr in the Barbican with images from Strange and Familiar in the background. Where’s the copyright control? There’s no consistency. I can’t comprehend.
In March I had a hectic day in London visiting the V&A, the Science Museum and the Photographers’ Gallery. In the V&A there were no restrictions on photographing the Julia Margret Cameron images, but at the Julia Margret Cameron exhibition in the Science Museum (where some of the images from the V&A were repeated), photography was not permitted and in fact patrolled by more uniformed guards with specially designed peep-holes enabling them to keep watch on errant visitors. However, in the adjacent gallery in the Media Centre there was a great exhibition of Alex Soth work where photography was permitted. Later that same day I visited the amazing Saul Leiter exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery where there were no restrictions on photography. Help!
In February I visited the Chalky Davies exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff where photography was permitted but in March at the Ifor Davies exhibition Destruction in Art, again at the National Museum, photography was not permitted. Later that same month I visited MoMA in Machynlleth where I was able to photograph an Ifor Davies painting which was part of his Destruction in Art series. I’m just going round in circles; is it the museums applying the copyright rule or the artist? Either way there’s no consistency. Whilst at the Ifor Davies exhibition at National Museum Cardiff I asked at the enquiries desk why photography wasn’t permitted and as told that it was at the insistence of the artist. If this was true it’s unlikely that I would have been able to photograph his work at MoMA. By far the best exhibition I’ve visited has been the Philip Jones Griffiths show at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth last year, this was amazing and stimulating. Not only was photography permitted, but it was encouraged – they provided a ‘selfie-stick’ for visitors to use!
Surely there’s room for common sense. Are people really using their phones in an attempt to produce facsimiles of the artwork or are they sharing images on social media to encourage their friends to also visit the shows? I like the opportunity to take photos at exhibitions and museums to compliment my blogs. Usually my photos have context and scale to support the blog text.
In April this year the Guardian newspaper published an article entitled ‘No Sketching‘ which described how the V&A has banned not only photography – but sketching also! My University encourages ‘appropriation’ as a legitimate means of learning one’s craft and appreciating the masters. I think that museums and galleries are in danger of stifling art by restricting the sharing of our heritage and historic art forms and I also have grave concerns if the nation’s photographs are transferred from Bradford to the V&A.