ACT News

Canberra's National Gallery of Australia lifts photography ban on permanent collection

Some of the National Gallery of Australia's most iconic artworks are set to become popular backdrops for visitors who are now free to capture images on their cameras and smartphones.

The NGA has lifted its long-standing photography ban on its permanent collection in response to a growing demand from visitors keen to document and share their gallery experiences through images and "selfies" online. 

"Selfies" allowed: The National Gallery of Australia has lifted its blanket ban on photography.
"Selfies" allowed: The National Gallery of Australia has lifted its blanket ban on photography.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The ban was lifted at the weekend and signage is expected to be updated in early January. 

NGA assistant director Simon Elliott said many of the gallery's works were relatively young and management had maintained the long-standing ban to uphold the copyright of its artists.

"In 1982 when the gallery opened, you had to cloak your camera on entry," Mr Elliott said.

"With the invention of the smartphone, the idea of personal photography in galleries has become more of a right than an agreement.

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"People can now utilise their mobile devices for photographs for their own personal use."

Art-lovers often had a strong desire to document the artworks and to personalise their trip to the gallery.

He had frequently heard of visitors who would try to sneak photographs and "selfies" when they thought security staff were  not watching. 

Images shared personally through online social media networks would hopefully bring wider exposure to the gallery's collection and allow people to engage with works in a different way, Mr Elliott said. 

"There's certainly the thought that people will come in and see a great work and then want to share it with their friends and the world.

"And for artists as well, if their images are shown in a positive fashion."

He said copyright laws had yet to catch up with the booming digital world, where images were often "endlessly reproduced".

"The gallery still respects the artists' copyright but it's working with the provision within the law that allows photographs for personal use."

Mr Elliott expected some of the gallery's well-known, "destination works" to be the most commonly snapped pieces.

"I think it will be works like [Jackson Pollock's] Blue Poles and the Monet's and the Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series.

"But I think people also take pictures of the front of the building and the entrance foyer."

He said high-quality images of the more than 175,000 works in the collection were available on the gallery's website and in its publications. 

The gallery's ban on flash photography and tripods remains in place and photographs of artworks cannot be used for commercial reasons.

And the lifted ban does not apply to touring exhibitions, where photography will be allowed on a case-by-case basis and clearly signposted. 

Mr Elliott said, for example, light installation artist James Turrell, who's blockbuster retrospective is  on show at the gallery, had been "most insistent" that photography not be allowed in his exhibition.