How Not to Photograph Art

So, today I was at the South Miami Art Festival taking photos, as usual, for Soul Of Miami. As I was shooting one section, a woman started hollering from across the street, “Please don’t take pictures of the art!” Before I continue, let me show you the photo I was taking at the time.

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You will note that I have blurred out the actual art. Anyway, she was all apologetic, saying, “this is not a gallery, but it is a gallery,” but inside I was like, “YES! Finally!” As you know, I am a creator of arts events, a curator, and an art enthusiast. I HATE it when people photograph art. Yes, hate. I think it is a completely douchebag thing to do. (The only exception is if you are a professional reviewer shooting for a physical publication and you clear it with the artist first).

Later that day, I was speaking with an artist manager friend of mine and this person told the story of one of the other artists showing at the festival who had been dropped from his gallery because his artwork had been showing up all over Facebook. This is not a joke. When you take one of those straight-on, carefully held, nicely framed photos of a piece of art, you are, essentially, stealing from the artist. Like the image? BUY IT.

Now, you might say, “But Jaaaaaaaaaames, you are always photographing art.” Right, so let me show you the acceptable ways to photograph artwork. And, let me be clear, these are only somewhat acceptable. Even I feel a little uncomfortable doing these, but since it is my job to showcase the event, it is necessary. If the artist asks you not to do it, then don’t.

Here is the first one: “The Angle”
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Shoot the art from off to the side. The flattened 2-dimensional angle makes it harder for people to reproduce. People still get the feeling of the art, but without making it easy for people to steal the image. Honestly, this one is a little too straight on for me, but it was a long week and I was not as careful as I usually try to be.

Another one I like, “We Love Art”
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A nice shot of people enjoying, and partially obscuring the art. Again, it gives the viewer an idea of what the art looks like, without making it easy to reproduce. Another reason I like it is because it shows people enjoying the work.

Here is a fun one, “The Contemplative”
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This is one I love. A side on shot of someone really getting into the piece. It’s so cool to see people moved by a work.

So, are you getting the idea? The idea is to give the viewer a feeling for what the art looks like, and for what the event itself looks like, without making it easy to steal the image.

Now, this is a super awesome way to photograph the art: “The Collector”
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You see what she’s doing there? She is photographing the artist info for the piece of art, so she can look it up later. That is an AWESOME thing to do!

So, to keep in context with the subject of this writing, here are not one, but three examples of how not to photograph the art: “The DoucheFans”
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Maybe we’ll call it two and a half negative examples. The woman in the gray pants seems to be doing “The Angle”, so that might be okay. But, the other two, definitely uncool. If you like it that much, buy it!

And here we go: “The Thief”
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“Ooooh, I love this piece! I’m going to make it my wallpaper! I’m just going to snap a quick pic and share it with all my friends! Who cares if the artist can’t eat this week.” Super-uber-not-cool. Stop. Doing. This.

I’m not going to get into the, “but it could help them promote their work” nonsense, so don’t even try. Unless you are a true influencer or reviewer, your taking their work without permission and using it as your Facebook cover or phone wallpaper is NOT going to help them sell more work, believe me. It is just nonsense rationalization.

So, I hope you are getting my point. As we come up to another Art Basel, I think it is time we all consider being a little more considerate of the hard work and struggle that many artists have. If you love their work, tell them, don’t take it for yourself. They will love it if you come up and tell them how much you like their work. And don’t worry, they aren’t going to try to hard sell you on it. If you have a friend who might want to purchase it, pick up a card, don’t snap a pic. Let’s help keep the arts flourishing because, you know, Life Is Art.

#SMCSFblog

6 responses to “How Not to Photograph Art

  1. This is a great post James. I like the tips you give about the angles. I will definitely be more cautious when taking pictures of art.

  2. I applaud you!!! Thanks for this piece…

  3. It is a very good article James. I would also add (if you don’t mind): never use a flash and for those of us promoting events using high-res (pre-approved) images of an artist’s work, reduce the resolution size so that’s it’s only good enough for social networks, but not good enough for print. And, remember to give the artist full credit and the photographer too!

  4. A FB friend recently took a photo of an art piece but she actually brought it. So that’s cool, right?

  5. James, I really loved this piece and the principle behind it, but some artists actually post their portfolios online … so the same principle applies, of course. If you want to reproduce elsewhere, then ask for permission.

    • Interesting you bring that up, I am planning a follow up article about how to help an artist promote through the artist’s social media.

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