National Gallery to allow photographs of art

A change of policy at the National Gallery of Canada will allow visitors to take pictures of the art.

The National Gallery has recently changed its policy that banned taking photographs of the art. From April 1, visitors will be able to take pictures, but only for personal use.

“People want to remember what they saw that they really liked,” gallery director Marc Mayer recently told the Ottawa Citizen. “You can’t police photography anymore… Everybody has a camera in their pocket today.”

The gallery, like many other cultural institutions around the world, has acknowledged that sharing pictures via social media serves as free advertising.

The downtown Ottawa gallery’s previous policy, which remains in place until April 1 and still appears on the NGC website, states: “For copyright reasons, it is not permitted to photograph works in the exhibition galleries.”

After April 1, the use of flash photography will still be prohibited to protect artworks from light damage.

Currently, most museums and galleries in Centretown have lenient photography policies, allowing vistors to take pictures in their galleries for non-commercial purposes.

Such is the case at the Canadian Museum of Nature. According to spokesman Dan Smythe, it is a “very photo-friendly museum”.

The nature museum only has copyright control on the permanent collection its owns — as opposed to the special exhibitions whose owners still possess rights to.

Generally, photography is only banned in areas displaying pieces that are under copyright, “particularly in the travelling and temporary exhibition areas where the pieces are on loan,” says Smythe.

Exhibits such as Whales Tohora, exhibited in 2012 and originally from New Zealand, do not allow photography at the request of the lending institution, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

“When people see something that captivates them it’s a way of sharing the experience,” says Smythe. “When they see a dinosaur, for example, and want to take a picture to keep as a memento, we certainly encourage that.”

Photography not only helps visitors, but it can also helps the museum. All Centretown museums have websites. And many, including the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Bytown Museum are on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

“In this day and age, we want people to take pictures and share their experiences,” says Smythe.

For Guy Berubé, a gallerist at La Petite Mort, this connectivity can also help people who are disabled.

“Imagine someone who simply does not have access to that specific museum, be it by handicap, geographical location, or budget. Art is for the masses,” Berubé said.

According to Smythe, taking pictures can encourage museum-goers to inspect with care and revisit works that caught their attention. But other professionals in the field think that it can also represent a device that distances and keeps the viewer from a deep engagement with the art.

For Carol Payne, that’s the way the world works now. She’s a specialist in the study of photography and was a curator before teaching at Carleton University.

“In 2014 many of us live through our cameras,” she said.

According to Payne, when people talk to convey their experiences to friends, they do it visually, through pictures.

“In a way, this brings museums, like the National Gallery of Canada up to 2014, when this is the way we talk to each other — through visual images, especially through digital photographs,” said Payne.

Although this is just the way we live now, for Payne there is something funny that happens when people stand behind a camera: they think more about a “future projection of a nostalgia of a moment,” rather than being present.

“We all want to capture visual souvenirs of where we’ve been so we’re not experiencing them,” said Payne.

However, these souvenirs can be used by museums to promote their exhibitions. Many museums are engaged in social media and host interactive exhibitions on their websites.

Art enthusiasts like Payne affirm that the sensations are extremely different when they are viewing it in person.

Paintings by artists like Mark Rothko can, according to Payne, change as the viewer experiences it.

“Seeing a million reproductions of Mark Rothko’s paintings, for example, is quite different from standing in one of the galleries of the National Gallery and really feeling the movement of colours,” said Payne. “You would not sense that from your computer screen.”

Payne advises that next time you visit a museum, make memories and collect mementos but make sure to be present.

As Payne puts it: “Put the camera down and just enjoy the art at least from time to time.”