Photography –> Engagement?

I wrote a rather annoyed post against photographing works of art in museums. This was mainly a rant against cell-phone camera gaggles who cruise through the museum capturing blurred images of masterworks without really looking at them, not to mention getting in my way and seeming to miss the point of the museum: to look at art.

The blatant hypocrisy of this view, as I take photos in museums, is not lost on me, nor is the elitism of my quibbling justification that I really look at the art and try to be aware of the people around me.

To use my two exemplars for the last post, MoMA and Met have different photography policies. MoMA is quite good about letting it’s visitors take pictures without flash. The Met does not allow photography at all. The Met’s policy may be the best, as quite a few people at MoMA accidentally take flash photos. This could eventually harm the painting. Anyhow, photos of paintings are so unimpressive in quality compared to the original, it’s almost a waste of time to take one. (And did I mention the gaggles wielding camera phone?)

On the other hand, one of our compatriots here at Art Ravels suggested to me that they could be taking them to share with friends and relatives who will not have the opportunity to see them in person. To which I say, touche. Another commenter pointed out that he liked taking photos of installations and sculpture because he felt he was able to bring out different facets of the work. To which, again, I say touche.

Most interestingly, it was suggested that I look at Thomas Struth’s Museum Photographs, which document viewers reactions to art pieces. These well-behaved museum goers, even the children sitting on the floor, all seem to be looking at the paintings and not taking photos. But then again, all they ever do is stand their and stare. This got me thinking: more than a sign of visible approval, is taking a picture the one way a visitor can react when presented with an art object? Maybe people in museums should be able to do more, before the atmosphere turns into something as quiet, reverential, and ignored as the one below.

Art as it is most often presented is a take, not give, kind of thing. If you want to react to it, you end up removed to a different room miles away typing on a computer into a blog or some such tomfoolery. Perhaps photography is a sign of engagement. Do you think picture-taking is a way of responding to and interacting with the art?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more?

5 thoughts on “Photography –> Engagement?

  1. I do know my first encounter with “art” – the possibilities of art – was via the funny papers. Growing up in the early 1940s in a remote small Ozark town (we didn’t have electricity until I was 6 years old)my contact with any art was basically nil.

    In fact, the first “real” art I ever saw was at the Louvre in Paris. (Quite a jump, huh, from kerosene lamp light Ozarks to Paris boulevards by age 18, huh? (smile) – I had joined the army at 17 and right after basic was sent to Germany where I served 30 months. I made 4 trips to Paris while stationed there.) Venus de Milo. Mona Lisa. And on.

    What jumped out for me, however, was the large mural size paintings of the Napoleonic wars! Wow. I KNEW somehow, someway, I wanted to learn how to paint!

    I’ve been engaged in art every since. Ironically, however, I soon returned to drawing, coloring, playing with words, combining all – reaching back to my childhood love for play I imagine – and “fine art” became just part of that world. Images I could clip from magazines, write over in ink, whatever. Something I do today with my “Fine Art Funnies.”

    At the same time when I do go to a gallery I prefer more or less times when other viewers are few. So I have time to reflect on whatever the work brings to the fore. I certainly would not like cameras flashing around me, or people talking on cell phones as I wander and wonder through the halls.

    Thank you for the topic. And triggering these thoughts.

  2. I tend to look at paintings but photograph sculpture. Perhaps I need to have more information to digest at leisure from a three dimensional work. I have to admit to a bit of elitism myself – I always think the worst about all the cellphone cruisers; but of course my photos are out of the highest intellectual curiosity 😉

  3. I don’t usually take photos when I’m looking at art – I think a work of art needs to be given attention – when you are taking a photograph you are outside of what is going on – an observor – I always find this is worth keeping in mind when I have my camera with me! If I want to engage with the environment then I don’t take photos – it is equally annoying to have people at music festivals recording photos and music on their mobiles!! For me phones are for making calls not taking photos! Oh dear I’m showing my age! thanks for the topic and the food for thought!

  4. I take pictures when I am in museums, but never with a flash for the reason you stated. I do get really annoyed when people just sail through museums just to take pictures of the more famous things just to prove to people that they were actually there. The main reason I enjoy photography in museums is because it helps me to remember the whole place itself. Plus the architecture in museums like the Louvre is also worthy of a few pics!

  5. Ralph, that sounds like an amazing trip.

    Bill, I do see how photographs of scultpture allow you to focus on the lines of a piece better, and I think it’s funny how we all take pictures, even if were quasi-against it.

    R. Rose, if you’re attending music festivals you don’t need to worry about showing your age, and I agree that a plethora of cameras are distracting wherever they are!

    Fidget Midget, A) great name, and B) some of my favorite illicit images are of the Guggenheim NY’s interior spiral and such.

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