Photography at the National Gallery (ctd.)

August 29 2014

Image of Photography at the National Gallery (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Former National Gallery director Charles Saumarez Smith has written the following on his excellent blog:

Once upon a time, I might have been amongst those who deplore the use of mobile phones in front of works of art. But I have found that photography helps one to concentrate on the details, to look closely and carefully, and to be able to record those parts of a painting that one wants to record, often to a much higher standard of reproduction than those postcards.

I agree with Charles. As I said in my FT piece (which you can listen to here), I believe photography can actually help us look more closely at art, especially if galleries also abolish image reproduction fees. These fees have acted as a choke on the study of art history for too long, resulting in text-heavy books with few illustrations that don't cost publishers much to produce (and nobody reads). If we liberate images, both in digital and print format, then we can begin to look at art in entirely new ways. 

Neil Jeffares makes a similar point on his blog:

I can certainly wholeheartedly endorse his [my] plea for the abolition of image reproduction charges, at least for non-profit uses. If you look at the National Gallery’s policy, scholarly use is free – but you only get small images, can only use them for specified purposes and still have to complete endless forms. Since someone at the Gallery is paid to vet those forms, I can join Bendor in an offer to the Gallery to save at least £10,000:  by abolishing the paperwork, and relying on self-certification of eligible use.

I'd go further than Neil and abolish fees for everything, as Yale did back in 2011. In part, these fees are a by product of the extremely effective lobbying campaigns run by copyright collecting agencies over the years. But these are publicly owned paintings, so why aren't the image rights publicly owned too? If that's too much, the National should certainly waive fees for documentary filming and even what we might call 'commercial' books (though if you think you can make mega bucks from art history books, think again). The amount the National has wanted to charge films I've been involved with borders on the extortionate, and doesn't take into account the marketing value of millions of viewers seeing the Gallery and its works.

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