Should you take photos everywhere?

In a recent post by my Pixiq colleague Carlos Miller, he challenges an art gallery where an art exhibition is taking place. The exhibition is a woman who is living naked in a glass box with some pigs.

Without commenting on whether it's a great art piece (I think it's a bit heavy-handed on the symbolism, myself; it sounds like the performing arts project of a high-schooler, with all the obvious connotations of gender roles, nudity, etc), the key point here is that the gallery stenciled 'Photography Not Permitted' on the glass cage they live in.

In the video in the YouTube, Miller is interviewing an animal rights activist, who wants to go in and take photos. Whilst the animal rights activist might have their own agenda, Miller writes that "I decided to head out there and hope [a security guard] would dare grab my lens. I don't play that game." In other words, he's heading in there in the name of freedom of photography.

Reasons for limiting photography

It's easy to think of a few reasons for why photography would be limited in this set of circumstances.

Photography interfering with the art experience - Perhaps the artist has identified that, in today's day and age, the impact of a hundred cell-phone cameras might destroy the impact of the artwork. In allowing photography, you might find that there are a constant barrage of flashes, or people coming up to the glass, blocking the view for other viewers.

The 'art-interference' angle, I believe, is the most likely explanation in this case; the security guard explains on video that she has her own photographer covering the event, and from an article in the Huffington Post, appears that press photos are available upon request. In other words: She is not shy about her nudity, or about being seen, naked, with pigs.

Is increasingly becoming more common to ban photography outright from art exhibits, and I don't think that's such a bad thing. You wouldn't expect to be able to take photos in most museums, for example. It's similar to why you wouldn't take photos at a theatre performance: Doing so would be detrimental both to your own enjoyment and to that of other theatre-goers. The arts (and especially performance arts, which change on a minute-to-minute basis) is there to be enjoyed, reflected upon, and thought about; a process that gets harder if you are surrounded with 300 camera phones and SLR cameras clicking away.

In this particular case with the art gallery, I genuinely can't see a single reason to take photos, other than "because they told me not to". If you need to illustrate a point, press photos are available. If you need to take additional photos for any reason, there are PR people there you can talk to to arrange a photo session that doesn't interfere with the artwork in progress.

Copyright - Another possible argument is that of copyright; since it is an art installation, it could be argued that any photos taken of the art installation would be derivative works, and therefore infringing on copyright. In this particular case, copyright a pretty weak argument against photography on the whole; as there is an news angle is in this case - that of animal rights - copyright wouldn't apply for editorial use.

Respect - It's hard to say, but it could be argued that the art exhibit is partially about photography itself: In a world where we get reality TV drivel pumped into our televisions 24/7, is it a comment on what is 'real' and what is not? Is it a comment on pornography, perhaps 'naked girls and pigs'? It could very well be that the 'no photography' sign isn't a coincidental part of the exhibit. Art is how you perceive it, and for some, it might be the exhibit. Maybe the artist is commenting on respect and the media as part of her piece?

Choosing whether to take photos of not

Personally, I think it's important that we have freedom of photography, and we should fight for it. However, with great rights come great responsibilities, and as photographers, I believe it is our obligation to be professional about how we do our jobs as news or art photographers.

If someone asks you not to take photos, what goes through your mind? Do you immediately think "Fuck you, it's my right to point my camera at anything I want", or is the thought process more intricate than that? Do you think "Hmm, I wonder why they are asking me not to take photographs" and "if I were in the same situation, how would I deal with photography?"

If we're talking first amendment rights, most of us don't graffiti walls, we don't use bullhorns at 4am in the morning, and we don't shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre. Why? Because doing either of these things would be an utterly un-cool thing to do. Destroying property in the name of the first amendment? Keeping people awake in the name of the first amendment? Causing danger in the name of the first amendment? Of course not.

The first reaction to a "no photography" sign shouldn't be to reach for your camera. It should be to question 'why', and wonder if perhaps there might be something to this request not to take photos.

To put it differently: I'm a photographer. A passionate one. But if you are the photographer who causes a huge brouhaha by deciding to take photos at an event or a location where you've been asked not to, I will think less of you. Why? Because you're making all of us look bad.

Photo Credit: No Photography (cc) by Banalities on Flickr.