May I take a photo? – taking photos when visiting art galleries

At ZIMMERMAN we love it when viewers encounter a work of art that speaks to them. It may be a painting they desire to own, a sculpture that inspires their creative spirit, or a piece that sparks a personal memory or response.

On encountering an interesting work, some people are quick to whip out a mobile phone, to take a quick snap. But is it appropriate to photograph works in an art gallery?

This is an issue faced by art galleries up and down the country, with a range of different responses. Accordingly, before taking a photo, you should first check whether or not photography is permitted - and, if so, on what terms.


Why might photos not be allowed?

There are a number of reasons why art galleries may restrict members of the public from photographing works. Of these, the most common are:

* Conservation and care – Allowing members of the public to photograph an art work may result in damage to that or other works. The issues range from the dangers of light exposure (eg; multiple camera flashes may be detrimental to light-sensitive works), to the concern that someone focussed on taking a photo may accidentally knock or scrape against another work. For this reason, galleries allowing photography may expressly prohibit the use of artificial lighting or equipment such as tripods.

* Viewer experience – Amateur photographers taking shots may annoy other viewers – for example, by standing directly in front of a work to photograph it, or striking a humorous or lewd pose next to a suggestive piece. There is also a concern that someone focussing on capturing digital images may impair their own viewing experience - by imposing a lens between the viewer and the work, a photographer may limit his or her own opportunity to directly view and engage with the work. It is not unknown for people to walk around an entire exhibition behind a camera phone or video camera, not once looking directly at any of the art works.

* Cultural sensitivities – Galleries displaying taonga (Maori cultural treasures) or portraits of Maori ancestors are likely to have strict policies about photographing these works. For example, Auckland Art Gallery allows photographs to be taken of works in its permanent collection, but expressly excludes portraits of known Maori ancestors.

* Revenue protection – Galleries that sell original art works or reproductions (such as posters and cards) may be concerned that their sales will be affected if people are allowed to take their own images of the works. However, with so many artists and galleries now posting images on websites and social media pages, this concern is perhaps outdated by today’s technology.

* Intellectual property issues – The most common reason for galleries to impose restrictions on photographing works lies in the intellectual property issues – the concern to protect the legal and moral rights of the person who created or holds copyright over an art work. 


What are the intellectual property concerns?

The intellectual property concerns boil down to core components – copying and use.


* Copying - An artwork is effectively “copied” whenever someone takes a photograph of that work. If the copying is not expressly authorised, then the photographer may be acting in breach of the rights of the copyright holder. Copyright is a legal concept that automatically confers on the artist, or a person who commissions a work, the sole right to make copies of that work. The right does not need to be registered, or identified by the copyright symbol © - it automatically vests in the person who created or commissioned the original work.

Use - While photographing an artwork may breach the rights of the copyright holder, of greater practical concern is the use to which a photographic copy may be put.

The photographer’s sole or original intent may simply have been to capture a personal record of something he or she had seen. However, if the photographer later shares the photograph on social media (eg; by posting it on Facebook or a blog), then the photographer has effectively published a copy of someone else’s work.

A plethora of issues arise whenever someone publishes another person’s work. The artist’s reputation may be diminished by publication of a poorly taken photograph. Images can be cropped and digitally manipulated so as to no longer accurately reflect the nature or integrity of the original work.

Those who publish or re-post the photographic image may be unaware of the artist’s “moral right” to have their name attributed to the work each time a copy of it is published. The accessibility of images online also means there is a risk that the image could be commercially exploited without the artist’s knowledge or consent (for example, by being printed on mugs or other merchandise).

Accordingly, even if photography is allowed in an art gallery, it will generally be on the understanding that any photographs must only be for personal use. Anyone who wishes to photograph art works for any other purpose, including with the intent of posting the image on their Facebook page or blog, should first check that such use is permitted, or they risk breaching the lawful rights of the copyright holder.


For further information contact ZIMMERMAN - www.zimmerman.co.nz - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.