Conversation with Keith Seidel – Should you Photograph Art?

MMK Modern Art Gallery in Frankfurt

MMK Modern Art Gallery in Frankfurt – James Allan

Travelling overseas I enjoyed visiting art galleries and I was often permitted to take pictures of the art.  There is a bit of skill required to make these pictures work.  It is hard to square the picture up.  The frame might cast shadows on the work.  The lighting might be low, or harsh and there are other people in the gallery and sometimes the picture is protected by reflective glass.

However these pictures are never considered as suitable for photographic competition.  They are seen as a reproduction of someone else’s content.  I have tried to be creative in order to bring a fresh perspective to the art.  I have tried cropping in and selecting a key portion of the picture or taking the picture from an unusual perspective.  However the standards are very high and this is usually not good enough.

Many novices to photographic competition do not understand the distinction the judge is making when they label an image as “reproducing someone else’s art”.  The statement  is a statement of disqualification (In effect – I don’t have to consider the merits of this image – it’s out of category)

After such a meeting I get a line of people asking – well why was this one disqualified and not this one?  For instance a statue in North Terrace is rejected, the hood ornament on a Jaguar is praised and given 10.   Usually I can’t answer – They are both equally reproductions of someone else’s art.

The issue is made worse by inconsistencies.  There are internal inconsistencies where one  judge will make pronouncements that are inconsistent with their subsequent decisions.  Such a judge is seen as illogical.  There are also external inconsistency where one judge is not consistent with previous judges, or where a judge makes statements that no one in the room agrees with.  Such a judge is seen as out of touch.

With that in mind I spoke to Keith Seidel who is in part responsible for training the judges.  I asked him to clarify the distinction.  What is and is not acceptable when it comes to photographing art.  Should we be photographing art in the first place?

Shooting Funky Mirror

Photographing Art in the MMK

Hi Keith – can I pick your brains? I am wanting some opinions on the question – “Should we photograph art?” Do you have an opinion on that topic?


James, for memory or holiday purposes yes. As our own photographic art, no for 2d art (paintings, murals etc., especially not for competition or exhibition. The allowable exception to this is 3d public art (sculpture) where you interpret it within its space in a way that is not as the eye would see it, or includes people relating to it. This then becomes similar to architecture. I hope this helps


Thanks for that.  Do you think there is much agreement on this topic? Do most people have similar views?


Many in photographic circles are more conservative than I. I have also had some conversations with the likes of a Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt . Their view in AIPP(Australian Institute of Professional Photography) is also strong.  As well as photographing art they are concerned by plagiarism and mimicry, including workshop set ups etc. Peter recently out a good article on this on his blog.

The key concept is to ask where does your artistic input come into it.  If you merely record the art then an artistic interpretation is missing. The issue is similar to daubism in painting and cuts across ethical and increasingly copyright grounds.


I propose that there should be no bar against art.  I think the question should be re-framed. Instead of asking, “does this photograph contain someone else’s art?” we should ask  “is this photograph of art, a good photograph?” You don’t have to agree, but I am interested in your answer to the second question.


I consider a good art photograph to have the following characteristics.

  1. Does not directly reproduce or represent as the photographer’s original artwork.
  2. Adds to or reinterprets the original work
  3. Uses photography to place the original work in a spatial, cultural or historical context.
  4. Note that all exhibitions have very strong rules about other’s work and photographic origin of the entered work.
  5. Most also specifically exclude photographs of paintings. This is why we teach judges to differentiate between photos of 2d and 3d art, and to note were the photo of 2d art has an added context (ie. people interacting with the art).
  6. An additional thought – where the artwork is a secondary or supporting element in the composition of the photo giving it a narrative context


I’m putting together an article for our newsletter. I thought it would be unfair to subject my view point to members without also giving the orthodox point of view. I would love your comments .

I had also thought a series of 10 test images could be instructive. What is acceptable and what is not.

Here are 10 pictures – All mine – All 2D art  (well the image is flat) –  feel free to suggest alternatives if you have material that will make the point better.  The task is to rank them in order of acceptability and then draw the line between the acceptable photography of art and the unacceptable.  What makes it OK or not OK?


Hi James

Here are my thoughts. I must state that these are personal thoughts and not offered specifically in my SAPF (South Australian Photographic Federation) capacities, although these opinions are consistent with recent training of SAPF judges and long standing practice within the majority of SA camera clubs.

Having got the qualification out of the way I have classified the images as follows:

Acceptable for club competitions – 2, 4, 6, 8, 9

I would consider these acceptable for club competitions because the photographer has placed the art work into a different context by their composition, viewpoint or addition of a narrative element that takes the photo beyond a direct copy of another person’s art work. Of these I would expect that only 4 and 6 have sufficiently strong narratives that may contribute to success at SAPF Annual to National exhibition levels and these I would score the strongest.

 Unsure – 3, 5

These lack any additional narrative component but have 3-d perspectives that gave the photographer choices regarding light (angle, intensity) and balance of the 3-d perspectives.  I see the photographic input as predominantly technical rather than artistic. Scoring amongst strong company at club level would be 6-7 at best.

Not Acceptable for club competitions – 1, 7, 10

These present as direct copies of someone else’s art, albeit competently photographed.  Where is the photographer’s own artistic expression in these photos?  These would generally score 6 or less from me in club competition.

The issue you are researching is certainly being debated more frequently over the past 10 years.

The key question when including other art works of a 2-d nature within photographs is to demonstrate a clear artistic or narrative choice on the part of the photographer – providing a context for the final composition that adds to the chosen art.

Finally, I attach one of my photographs that I believe addresses the artistic input issue whilst including other pieces of art within the composition.

I hope that this helps.

Cheers Keith

_K3K6673-2 by Keith Seidel

Thanks Keith

That’s very helpful.   I  think the members will be able to work it out from the images perhaps better than the text.  By the way I like your image and would give it 8.


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