13 July 2010

Why ban cameras?

I am often annoyed by the restrictions on photographing in art galleries. Some spots have these signs, some places the guards even come running if you turn on your camera. What is that all about?

Is it about the money? Is it not allowed to take photos because the gallery wants to sell the catalogue? If I had to buy catalogues from all the exhibitions I want to remember I would have to get large bookshelves. And what when there is no catalogue, or only an overpriced leaflet with low-fi pictures?

Or is it because of the fear of reduction in the sales of the artwork? This does not seem rational. If you really want that piece of art you would not be satisfied with a snapshot of it. A photo of a sculpture will only be a photo of a sculpture. Photos of art in glass frames will get disturbing reflections. (This may also become art, like Finnish photographer Jorma Puranen, who photograph old portrait paintings and let the reflections become a crucial part of his art.) But the regular snapshot will stay as a memory of the art and be showed to people who have not see the art themselves yet. As you exhibit your art, you want people to see it, right? Is it not a positive thing if more people than gallery visitors will see your art? I can understand the fear of being copied, but that is a risk starting from the moment when the artwork is exhibited.

I can understand the fear of flash, from crowds of tourist versus oil paintings in the Louvre. And the hazzle of "lightning storms" or families grouping up for a portrait when you want to enjoy the art. But why take this precautions too far? Many artworks are not affected by the flash, and flashless photos cannot be a problem as long as you do not disturb others.

I also understand that cameras can be disturbing during performances, where it may damage the communication between artist and public. During the Article biennal 2008 in Stavanger, artist Yann Marussich was inside a glass cube, sweating blue sweat. The performance was strongly influenced by the spectators gradually closing in with their cameras (myself included). The artist himself considered this a bit disturbing, as this was not an intentional part of his performance.

For me, photographing exhibitions is a way of memorizing the impressions and the highlights, a way of keeping track of what I have seen and experienced. It is not a substitute of physical impressions, but an addition. This reminds me of the work "A travel without visual experience" by the Hong Kong artist PAK Sheung Chuen at the Venice biennal 2009: He went on a 5-day journey to Malaysia. From when he sat on the plane and until he arrived back again, he was blindfolded. His memories of the journey are not connected to visuals, but to sounds, tastes, emotions. This was represented with a dark room with walls covered with pictures made by himself and his travel companions. The only way for us to see the pictures was to take a picture of the room ourselves, with flash. Our impression would only bee through the camera lens.

So how do I store my impressions without photographing? I may make sketches of what I see, what is done in court when photos are prohibited. But then I would have to bring a skilled drawing artist, or rely on my own drawings. Even that could be difficult. In Japan I experienced that taking notes with a ballpoint pen was not allowed. A pencil would have been ok, though. Must I sneak around photographing in secret? Or do I have to buy the catalogue (or even the artwork) and then photograph it?