International #MuseumSelfie Day takes it a step further

Art Debate: What’s the etiquette on taking photos in a gallery?

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 9:30pm

    These days, so many people whip out their phones whenever they see something interesting. But what happens when they are in a gallery or a museum? Should one ask permission from the gallery owner or artist first?

    Red Dot Blog, an art marketing news site, explored this topic with a post by gallery owner Jason Horejs titled: “Debate: Should Visitors be Allowed to Photograph Artwork in Galleries, Museums and Art Shows?  The blog explores the concerns of a studio owner who is irritated by people who photograph artists’ work in her shop without asking permission.

    “We do have a sign posted that photographs of the art are not allowed because of copyright issues,” said the studio owner Karen in an email to Horejs. “Yet I am often confronted with visitors sneaking photos of everything they like, or just expecting that they can, and feeling indignant when they can’t.”

    He tells her in his response that she might want to think about turning the negative feeling about it into a positive sales opportunity as their sharing the photo on social media helps market the artists’ work.

    So how do those in the Midcoast’s artistic community feel about this?

    Jay Sawyer, a local artist in Warren, who operates an outdoor studio on his property is on both sides of the debate. Admittedly, he has grappled with his discomfort over it for a long time.

    “I’ve been mulling over this topic for a decade and am just as confused as when I started,” he said. “Everyone is a photographer these days and the concepts of ethics in regards to taking pictures of an artist’s work seems to have eroded a bit. My studio, Jbone, is an open area that has taken on a very big presence over the years and some people come just to experience the space itself. I would much rather have them experience the space rather than take it all in behind the lens of their camera, because it’s not the same.”

    Jana Halwell, owner of Caldwell Gallery in Rockland, also had mixed feelings about amateur photography.

    “Much of the time, folks who wander into our gallery take photos liberally without asking,” she said. “Some, however, do ask. My issue with it is more about the image and how it represents the work. If they take a poor photograph, which many do, putting it up on the website will not do the artist or the gallery any favors. This is why most professional artists hire professional photographers to shoot their work. Also, if a person really wants to take a photograph of a work of art they can easily be covert about it and do it without being caught, regardless of gallery rules. A savvy person can also rip them off of websites and blogs fairly easily, even with right click disabling.”

    Halwell recognizes this issue isn’t always black and white. “There are pros and cons to the world wide web,” she said. “If you are going to take advantage of the pros, you have to know you are exposing yourself to its vulnerabilities and cons, as well. The same is true with allowing someone to photograph art in your gallery. If it's a good image, they could potentially post it somewhere that might help the and artist enormously, or they can mash it into another work of art or even try to print it. In my humble opinion the benefits outweigh the risks.”

    On Jan. 17, 2018, museums all over the world encouraged its patrons to take a #MuseumSelfie with artwork, as did the Farnsworth Art Museum. David Troup, Communications Officer at the Farnsworth said, “We allow visitors to photograph certain works except for those pieces that are on loan to us and then it sometimes depends. There are certain private collectors who do not allow visitors to photograph works, and of course, we have to respect that. As an educational museum we are protected under the copyright laws and can share certain images because they serve in an educational capacity, but at the same time, we are careful not to offend certain donors and we have to take their preferences into consideration too.”

    Bottom line, it appears from both side of the lens: before you whip out that phone and click on the camera function—ask first.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at