Why is the display so dimly lit? DIANE ARBUS: AMERICAN PORTRAITS, Art Gallery Of South Australia

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hoffy

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Currently the road show exhibition DIANE ARBUS: AMERICAN PORTRAITS, as curated by the National Gallery of Australia, is in the Art Gallery of South Australia. (this is also partnered with a display of 10 images by Tracey Moffatt).

Considering that photography is a bit of an after thought here, I was excited to spend some time in our Gallery taking in some of the iconic imagery that I have only seen in books or online. It also helps that the exhibition is free, so it means I can pop down during a lunch break and spend half an hour or so just taking in a handful of photographs at a time.

Apart from Arbus, there are Winogrand, Friedlander and Eggleston on display (amongst others)

But...... the exhibition is so poorly lit, it has really taken away from the experience. When I say poorly lit, I am talking a lighting that you might expect to see for a display of the most priceless of Egyptian antiquities. They currently have a French Impressionism exhibition running concurrently - these absolute priceless works of art are far better lit!

Would this be normally expected for a photography exhibition? While I haven't been to a lot, I have been to enough and have never seen it that bad. Am I asking for too much?

Anyhow, just a random thought (& rant.....). Carry on.
 

Carriage

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Did you ask someone there? From various bit of reading/anecdotes I get the impression that as much as galleries and museums should know about lighting, they still don't always get it right. Sometimes it can be a power or facilities issue though.
 
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hoffy

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Funny you should have mentioned this. Yes, I did go up to the desk and ask. The response? "Oh, Sorry, I haven't been down there". I do suspect my feedback won't get handed on (it also sums up on what I think the AGoSA thinks of Photography).

Like an exhibition in the NGV (which I am sure you are familiar with), I would expect the Art Gallery of SA would have the resources and know-how to get it right. Or I am a fool and this is how photography is supposed to be displayed (which could indeed, be correct!).
 
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hoffy

hoffy

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I've read this forum a long time before enrolling a couple months ago. I ve always thought it strange the seeming fixation here with Diane Arbus. I had never even heard of her before I read this site. Curiously I did a search and found out she was some bipolar who killed herself. Therefor her so-called "work" is tainted. Why the interest? Suicide is an attempt to erase yourself from this world. If "art" is a window into the mind of the creator, then if you have killed yourself I am not the least bit interested in looking in.
Thats fine. Feel free not to go see her work then.
 

AgX

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Send a letter to the curators, explaining your background and the annoyence you experienced. And keep us informed.
 

AgX

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Well, the curators opted not to receive e-mails. Not sure about them reading social media.
 
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So by not making a formal approach to the Gallery, the problem you perceive is going to fix itself, or going to go unexplained?
It is not a difficult task for an Adelaidian to track down a person in authority at the Gallery such as the exhibition Curator or the Gallery Director with concerns about lighting.
However, in view of the background of Arbus, the lower level of lighting may be reflective of the contemplative nature of her work and invite close scrutiny and evaluation by viewers. A photographic exhibition never need be brightly illuminated to be effective. In fact, some exhibitions I have attended have been so blindingly brightly illuminated that I have had to leave after a few minutes without seeing anything at all!
 

AgX

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However, in view of the background of Arbus, the lower level of lighting may be reflective of the contemplative nature of her work and invite close scrutiny and evaluation by viewers. A photographic exhibition never need be brightly illuminated to be effective. In fact, some exhibitions I have attended have been so blindingly brightly illuminated that I have had to leave after a few minutes without seeing anything at all!

An interesting thought. Though then should one not differ between general- and photograph-illumination?
 

Michael W

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I saw the show at the NGA and as I recall it was well lit, so I wouldn't think it was a directive from them.
 
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hoffy

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So by not making a formal approach to the Gallery, the problem you perceive is going to fix itself, or going to go unexplained?
Oh boy, here we go.....

There is an alterative motive behind this thread. In the OP, I asked a question:
Would this be normally expected for a photography exhibition?
The reason behind this? So, if it is normally expected that a photographic display of renowned works such as this (which I have only ever really seen a handful of times), then I didn't want to look like a bit of a dick making a hullabaloo about not much at all.

Also, as per the OP, I did mention it and all I got was a figurative shrug of the shoulders.

As its a free exhibition, maybe I'll bring it up again when I'm in there next time.
 

pentaxuser

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My sympathies. With a bit of luck a few more visitors will question the lighting and either the gallery will do something or say something in the form of a notice. Usually there is a publicity leaflet produced for the exhibition and if there is you'd think that if low lighting is deliberate then some reason why the lighting has to be low would be mentioned.

When the person said: "Sorry I haven't been down there" what needed to be added was the that lighting contractors ( cheap and cheerful
gets the contract:D) asked for payment in cash and were last seen boarding a one way flight to Rio de Janeiro:D

Sounds like a great exhibition.

pentaxuser
 

winger

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Would this be normally expected for a photography exhibition?
Depending on the process, it wouldn't be unusual for the lighting to be low. At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, older photography usually ends up in the "Works on Paper" room and the lighting is less bright than elsewhere. But most silver gelatin prints and newer work gets lit fairly well, ime. Excessive light isn't always great for photos and I somehow remember that Arbus wasn't too finicky with fixer and washing, so maybe they're a bit worried?
I've also seen exhibits that were lit very poorly in places I would have thought could do better. A small, but higher end, museum in MA had little lights shining directly on photos in one exhibit and the angle was such that someone of my height could only see the glare from the light, not the photo. I've seen that in several places.
 
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The reason behind this? So, if it is normally expected that a photographic display of renowned works such as this (which I have only ever really seen a handful of times), then I didn't want to look like a bit of a dick making a hullabaloo about not much at all.

Free exhibition of levied, it is completely within your public remit to query the lighting of any gallery you visit if it is of interest to you. No, you will not look like a dick for putting your hand up! There will be a perfectly valid reason for it other than the dismissive "oh I haven't been down there", which sounds daft.

I kicked up a grand ruckus in 2004 when my Ilfochrome Classic works were displayed at the AGofSA (alongside Peter Dobre). They did not have the spots angled correctly which caused a lot of strong glare and reflections. A Printer from Chroma Colour (at the time based in Kent Town) came to set thing straight, so to speak. In the end, the spots were replaced with diffuse lens type halogens (the gallery probably now uses LEDs, but I don't know).

The National Gallery of Victoria welcomes commentary on anything about an exhibition, even the titles on the walls garner commentary, if not the beautiful illumination that by and by passes unnoticed.
 
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Funny you should say that. They also have Tracey Moffat on display. Every where you look there are reflections of a row of light bulbs on her massive prints. Very distracting.

If that is the case the gallery is still faulting along the same lines as photographers in 2004 when they complained about the reflection of the lights! I am surprised...
 

Bill Burk

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At a Weston exhibit I went to by Hank Ketcham Park in Monterey, the lights were on a sensor. Dim until you walk in, then they get brighter... But still not what you would call intense. I think it’s cool to show that kind of care for irreplaceable photographs
 

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As I recall, when I visited the Arbus exhibit Revelations it too was fairly dark as well. Maybe this might have something to do with some of the vintage prints that Arbus made herself are starting to fade? The Getty Center in Los Angeles often exhibits very old salt prints and daguerreotypes and vintage silver prints that are kept in a kind of light box. You push a button on the light box and keep your finger on the button and the box lights up allowing you to see a photograph that due to its nature has to be kept in the dark for most of the time obviously to prevent deterioration. Furthermore, right now in Los Angeles there are two prints of the famous Arbus picture "Identical Twins." One is at MOCA and the other at the Getty Center. The one at MOCA has a odd pinkish cast in a few places on the print. The one at the Getty Center looks flawless. Maybe the one at MOCA was improperly fixed and/or washed? Who knows? The thing is that when multiple prints are made of a famous photographers most well know images including those made posthumously, the quality can vary. When I visit a photography exhibit I always wonder if the prints I'm looking at were made by the photographer or someone else. Often times even the venue doesn't know.
 
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