National Gallery Lifts Photography Ban

Words and Image by Billie Jenkins

Our National Gallery, Trafalgar Square’s iconic backdrop, has reversed its policy on the use of cameras. Primary motivation for the decision, according to the galleries press release, is that monitoring the use of smartphones has become too monumental a task for their guards to enforce; and therefore removing the ban altogether is the most rational solution. It’s a strange reasoning, not being able to adequately prevent camera usage seems a meek argument, an if you can’t beat ’em join ’em attitude, that weighs in no real argument about what’s best for the experience of visitors.

There are two key arguments I would pitch against each other for the real gains or losses which are to be made when art establishments open the public’s shutter. The first is that the art belongs to us, it may have Tate, or the name of a rich donor above the doors, but vast amounts of the art in these spaces belong to taxpayers. Perhaps for that reason they should be able to do with it what they want, selfies included.

Yet anyone who has been to the Paris, in particular the Louvre, will remember (hopefully with a slight grimace) the sad way in which viewing the art becomes more like a system of queuing. A perpetual line of snap happy tourists who really need to document for their friends at home how tall they are in relation to a variety of world treasures, or exactly what their interpretation of the world’s most photographed painting is through through their favourite IPhone app. Art critic Sarah Crompton weighed in on the argument, writing in the Telegraph “by allowing photography, galleries are betraying those who want to reflect rather than glance. Surrounded by the snappers, they may come to think that this is the acceptable way to consume art: constantly grazing, without any real meal.”

Although technology has evolved, and despite our claim to the art from a political point of view, we should recognise that the way we consume information is rapidly changing in a way we are yet to understand. Perhaps it is safer for the sake of art to act conservatively, rather than relinquish the traditional and open the floodgates for viewing art through the screen of a camera to be come normalised. And anyway, the naughty feeling as you take one quick shot of a painting you can’t bear to say goodbye to will be lost forever, which is a sad thing in my books.

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