Flash photography and artwork

There’s a post at Imaging Resource, Does flash photography really damage art? The persistence of a myth, in which the author cites a work online, Amateur photographers in art galleries: assessing the harm done by flash photography. Pretty much both (the second scientifically, the former by talking to security guards) claim that flash photography does no long term harm.

I have to wonder if either actually looked at the data.

If you hit the link to the original article by Evans, you find that the testers reduced the flash output from the Metz 45CT-1’s to about GN 20 at a distance between 1.1 and 1.4 meters, to approximate exactly what an amateur flash would put out. (remember, those little flashes also have a fairly short range, and many P&S cameras have wide angle lenses that inspire the “photographer” to be close) After the test, about 1/2 of the pigments showed changes “visible to the eye.”

Now as photographers, I hope we’ve reviewed Henry Wilhelm’s work in testing, first color negative, slide and print material, and now inkjet ink and paper materials. One of the important points is that materials fail when there is perceptible fading in one color. If you again read Evans’ work, he points out that the testing resulted in fading after only 1/3 of the expected exposure!
The point isn’t that electronic flash units cause fading; it’s that they add to the fading already occurring (very slowly), and the museums (and the public that enjoys these works) have a vested interest in slowing this fading as much as possible. The options include limiting the amount of time the works are on display, or limiting the amount of “unofficial” light that’s added to the works.
Any amount of fading and color shift is bad. Trying to claim it’s OK for thousands (or tens of thousands) of visitors a year to add to that fading is rather criminal.

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"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." - Susan Sontag, On Photography
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