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Thread: Does flash photography really damage art? The persistence of a myth.

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    It's all about the Light!
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    Does flash photography really damage art? The persistence of a myth.

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/news...ence-of-a-myth

    The other day, I went to an exhibition of photographs by W. Eugene Smith. Entering the museum, I spotted a sign that said, “No Flash Photography!” Out of curiosity, I walked over to a museum guard and asked him why flash photography was prohibited.

    His response was "le froid de la lumière est mauvaise pour l'art" - "the cold from the flash is bad for the art." Cold from the flash? Say what?

    At first, I laughed. Was this some weird Jedi mind trick?
    Interesting article
    regards, Kym Gallery Honest & Direct Constructive Critique Appreciated! ©
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    I have to agree with some of the comments offered in rsponse to the article. Ignoring the scientific issues about whether flash is good or bad, the social impact is IMO enough to ban it.

    I was lucky enough (if you call it that) to see the Mona Lisa last year. I was left unimpressed by this small image but it is a classic so I did the dutiful thing and went to see it. The room was heaving with people all jostling for position. If each of those were to take a picture using flash the place would be renowned amongst nightclubs!! It would be impossible to view the artwork as intended.

    Does it physically damage it? Science will tell us that. Does it damage the ability to view it as intended? Certainly and therefore that IMO should be reason enough to prevent it.

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    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    Light can certainly fade some pigments. It will depend on the pigment just how strong this effect is, but why take the risk.
    Of course, banning flash photography is generally pointless as many people have no idea how to turn their flash off, so all photography would need to be banned - as is the case in many galleries.

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    Fishy bricat's Avatar
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    Just remove a carpet rug, a weather board exposing fresh sunless paint etc and you will see the effect of light on different subjects. I nearly purchased an ex water police boat except for the very bad discolouration over the deck and hull. Light definately fades certain and varying surfaces.
    Cheers Brian.

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    Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch jim's Avatar
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    le froid de la lumière est mauvaise pour l'art.

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    It's all about the Light!
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    Quote Originally Posted by bricat View Post
    Just remove a carpet rug, a weather board exposing fresh sunless paint etc and you will see the effect of light on different subjects. I nearly purchased an ex water police boat except for the very bad discolouration over the deck and hull. Light definitely fades certain and varying surfaces.
    But is the light energy from a flash significant? NO!
    Continuous light, sunlight etc. will damage things, but more so from UV and Infra Red than visible spectrum.

    I agree the 'social' impact of flash can be annoying; but damage?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    But is the light energy from a flash significant? NO!
    Continuous light, sunlight etc. will damage things, but more so from UV and Infra Red than visible spectrum.

    I agree the 'social' impact of flash can be annoying; but damage?
    Uhhhh yeah it does Kym. I have been to the Lourve many times and had a chat to a supervisor in one of the wings, and he briefly mentioned why. But below is a more in-depth explanation of why museums and galleries try to keep flash away as much as possible -



    According to Carl Grimm, head paintings conservator for the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, the heat and light produced by flash photography speed up the chemical reactions that cause deterioration. Mr. Grimm said:

    In general, a 10-degree F increase in temperature doubles the speed of chemical reactions, so any increase in heat--even brief--speeds up deterioration. Heat is produced just beyond the red end of the visible light spectrum in the invisible, longer wavelengths known as infrared. The short, high-energy wavelengths of visible light at the other (blue) end of the spectrum, and especially the invisible ultraviolet radiation that is just beyond visible light, are very effective at breaking chemical bonds, which also produces deterioration. You can see this effect very quickly in newsprint that has been lying in the sun--it begins to turn yellow and brittle, eventually turning to dust. Flash photography produces a burst of light that contains both long and short wavelength radiation that injures the artwork. That's why we request that photography be done using existing light.

    Mr. Grimm went on to talk of the "light life" of an artwork--that is, how much cumulative exposure to light it can withstand before deteriorating: "If an artwork such as a watercolor were kept in complete darkness it would last much longer, but of course that's not practical. On the other hand, the 'light life' of the artwork can be used up very quickly with intense light exposure."

    I asked what type of chemical reaction occurs when an artwork deteriorates. Referring to the watercolor example above, Mr. Grimm responded:

    Light hitting the paper--and there's often very much exposed paper in a watercolor--causes breakage in the paper fibers. These fibers are made up of cellulose, in the form of long chains of cellulose molecules. High energy radiation, such as ultraviolet light, causes a long chain of cellulose to break into two parts. At the point of breakage there is produced a molecule of sulfuric acid, which in turn can react with other cellulose to cause another break, and so on, in a chain reaction. As the cellulose breakes into smaller and smaller particles, the paper becomes yellow-brown and brittle; often it smells sour (from the acids) and can be powdered into dust with your fingertips when the deterioration is advanced. Light also can cause fading in the colors. Pigments come from many different sources, and some are not completely light stable--that is, they change their chemical structure with the absorption of high energy light into chemical structures that are not colored or are of a different color.

    On the surface, it may seem that the amount of heat and light produced by one flashbulb would be inconsequential. But think of a popular artwork and the annual number of people who see it, many of whom would take a flash picture of it if they could. If all of the flashbulbs from all those visitors were set off at once, well, I imagine the room would get pretty hot. Consider also that some popular artworks have been on display for centuries. I don't think we really want to do anything that would make Mona Lisa fall apart any more quickly than she apparently already is.



    [B]Light is said to be made of billions upon billions of smaller than smaller than small particles called photons. Not only does the energy from the light deteriorate the painting, but these photons hit it as well. It's like taking an extremely tiny finger and rubbing it against the painting trillions and trillions of times over again. And we all know what that would do to a painting./B]
    Last edited by JM Tran; 10-10-2012 at 12:36pm.
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    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    I think we just need to look at the life of inkjet prints to realise that light can effect pigments, and not just by uv light, though this is by far the worst.
    I remember seeing the Mona Lisa in 1990. There was a large sign saying "No flash photography", but nobody seemed to take any notice and there was a continuous flashing of cameras. It may well be that Leonardo was smart enough to use very good pigments, let's hope so, but not all great art was created by a science as well as an art genius.

    p.s. Reaction rates generally double with each 10 deg Centigrade rise in temperature.

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