Saturday, 14 May 2011

Barriers to the Increase of our Aberdonian Photon Collection

Earlier this week, we were at Aberdeen Art Gallery, looking at the Aberdeen Artists' Society 2011 show. Which we recommend.

But that's not what we want to discuss today. During our visit, I took a handful of photos - some interesting photogenic aspects of the building's structure caught my eye. Here's some:

No sooner had the shutter closed on that last photo than an attendant started hassling us, saying that photography was forbidden. He indignantly told us that it was forbidden in some parts of the gallery, but not others. In those areas where photography was not forbidden, we'd have to fill in "a form" with "all your details" and then wait to see whether permission to take photos would be forthcoming. We were told that this system had been instituted "in the last few months". 

This is bizarre and disturbing. Taking photographs in art galleries is not something weird, unusual or sinister or dangerous. It's not subversive and it's not harmful; I've been doing it all my adult life in art galleries all over the world. Let us be clear: we can understand a restriction on photographing new work - the new work in the Aberdeen Artists' Society exhibition, for instance. It is perfectly reasonable that the artists would prefer that that new work not be photographed. (Yet the paradox exists that photographic copies of lots of the exhibited work are available in the exhibition catalogue for three quid, and the Aberdeen Artists Society Facebook page has lots more.)

But that day I wasn't even photographing any of the artworks in the gallery - and I told the attendant so. "Oh aye, they all say that" he retorted pugnaciously, but he did not ask to review the shots I'd taken. He appeared elbows-out chin-juttingly personally resentful of the very fact of our existence, and the fact that I laughingly questioned his unquestioning enforcement of a nonsensical rule nettled him greatly. He nearly had steam coming out of his ears. 

This is the fourth time that I have been approached and dealt a rebuke for simply taking photographs - collecting photons - in Aberdeen. First time was a couple of years ago on the top deck of the St Nicholas Centre, the second time was the now (in)famous incident on the top of the car-park of the Union Square shopping mall. Thirdly, the police traced and interviewed me after I'd photographed an office building in the west end of Aberdeen, and now I am told of severe restrictions on photography at Aberdeen Art Gallery. The frequency of these ridiculous rebukes is increasing. What's going on?

A contrasting experience perhaps helps illuminate the situation in Aberdeen. We were in London earlier in the spring, and found the time to visit the world-famous Tate Britain gallery. Stuffed full as it is of artworks of permanent global importance, we took loads and loads of photos there. At Tate Britain (just as at all other public galleries, except in Aberdeen) the attendants appear to actively accommodate visitors who want to take photos. Sometimes restrictions are put on flash photography for understandable conservation reasons; but otherwise, photography is regarded as desirable and normal; expected and even necessary for the living artistic health of a gallery, its patrons and its attendees. Why is it different in Aberdeen?

William Blake
'Thus did Job...'
One of many photos we took in Tate Britain
After enjoying Tate Britain, we crossed Vauxhall Bridge and took loads and loads of photos of the most security sensitive building in the UK. We hung about on the waterfront terrace in view of  CCTV clusters and MI6 spooks on balcony ciggie-breaks, who could see perfectly well that we were openly photographing interesting aspects of the building. We were not approached; we were not prevented from doing what we wanted to do. Earlier in the day, we'd passed outside the Ministry of Defence and we took a few photos. Again, unchallenged. And we'd lingered outside the fabulous modernist slab-and-plinth edifice of Millbank Tower, home of the ruling Tory Party, and again we took some photos. Again, unchallenged. Why is it different in Aberdeen? 
Spook Central

General Central
Tory Central
How is it that we can take as many photographs as we like in a world famous art gallery in London, but we're effectively prevented from doing so in the minor provincial gallery in Aberdeen? How is it that we can take as many photographs as we like of extremely sensitive sites involved in national security, defence and government in London, but the police only take an interest when we photograph a shopping mall and office building in Aberdeen? What the devil is wrong with this town?

A room in the Aberdeen Art Gallery complex where we were told that photography is strictly forbidden is the fantastically neoclassical Memorial Court. We were told by the attendant that it is "disrespectful" to photograph war memorials. What? Why then does the Aberdeen Art Gallery website host its own photos of this room? Is this photo somehow less "disrespectful" than any I might take?

Again, to contrast this attitude with what we experienced during our recent visit to London; when we walked along Victoria Embankment we were entranced to see the new-ish Battle of Britain Memorial; a high-relief frieze by Paul Day. So emotional, engaging and moving is this memorial, so popular is the site, that kids even pose for photos interacting with the memorial; they act taking part in the fighter-pilot scramble, they touch it, understanding history. Photos help reinforce these impressions, they buttress our memories - helping us remember; a personal memento for a public memorial. What's disrespectful about that?

Why is it different in Aberdeen?


spoon said...

Aberdeen is full of miserable tossers. Students and anyone considered posh (not to mention English) are thoroughly despised.

By being an arty sort you definitely go under the "YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN ME!" category.

My speculation is this disgust of outsiders, prevalent across the North East, is aimed at you, and this fear just provokes wee men with clipboards further.

Sarah said...

Probably some oaf without the brain to switch off their flash has been in there, and spoiled it for everybody...

Anonymous said...

Art galleries tend to not like people taking pictures because they would prefer you to buy a postcard from the gift shop - which seems fair enough, given that entry is free (for now) and funding from taxes unlikely to be going up any time soon.

Anonymous said...

The National Trust for Scotland has a Similar policy.. For Insurance reasons, some properties, even offer to look after your equipment...