Taking photos of art? Get people in the shot.

Posted on
Mar 5, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think photos should be taken in museums. And I stand by that point, even though I’m a really huge hypocrite about the whole thing. I defend my actions by claiming that I have to take photos for the blog. If I couldn’t take pictures, I’d have to pepper my posts with crude recreations of the works I’d seen, rendered by my unsteady hand in Microsoft Paint.

This becomes problematic if I have to create anything beyond the canon of Joan Miro (who, for the record, was brilliant and game-changing, but it’s really easy to fabricate a suitable decoy of his genius in roughly three minutes).

Behold, Miro’s The Flight of the Dragonfly in Front of the Sun:

And my rendition of it, tentatively titled Catastrophic Ketchup Spill on Blue Carpet With Squiggle and Dot:

I am going to hell for this (and for all the other stuff I've done).

Clearly nothing is sacred to me.

There is, fortunately, a limit to my callousness. Because while I may run around museums taking the occasional photo (with my flash off, of course), I’ve never requested someone move out of the way so that I may capture the perfect shot.

And believe me, that actually happens. I’ve had people tap me on the shoulder and wordlessly wave their hand to the side, just so they could get a grainy, overexposed photo of Christina’s World for their very own.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that there is a special level of hell for people like that, and they’ll eventually spend an eternity roasting alongside folks who got into the express lane at the grocery store with way more than 10 items (barbarians, the lot of them).

What’s more, the people who force others out of their shots are actually missing out. Because, as fellow-travel blogger Gary noted a while back on the blog, it’s often far more interesting to take photos of museums visitors than of the exhibits themselves.

Because isn’t this why we create in the first place? So that our creations may be seen?

So if you must snap a picture of a great work of art, try to get some of your fellow museum-goers in the shot. When I do, it often means I end up taking photos of people taking photos, which I’m always fond of.

Or I find the juxtaposition between a piece and a spectator becomes art in and of itself. This gentleman wandered into nearly every shot I took in the Nereid gallery at the British Museum. I found the contrast of the robed statues and his khaki-clad frame to be kind of hilarious.

What if he were half naked and wearing a robe, and the statues looked like GAP mannequins?

There was something incredibly sweet about this couple walking up the stairs together.

And there’s no way I could communicate the size of this statue without the young men standing in front of it.

Seriously, its nipples were like the size of my palm.

Indeed, I think having a bit of humanity in the shot tends to make all those photos of great works of art even better.

Yup. Definitely.

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