Mediated Seeing: Unpacking Visitor Photography in Art Museums and Galleries

Lee, Chien. 2020. Mediated Seeing: Unpacking Visitor Photography in Art Museums and Galleries. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Photographic recording has gained a key role in shaping contemporary experience—everyday and extraordinary. When brought into the art museum space, this photographic perception may challenge the institution, which has historically privileged quiet contemplation and appropriate manners. How do art museums now accommodate two types of seeing—photographic and direct? How does the performance of the first type configure the visitor’s encounter with the artwork? Visitor photography is treated in this research as a potentially destabilising factor inside the art museum: it re-shapes both the experiential space and visitors’ relations with the exhibited artworks. To explore this topic, ethnographic studies were carried out at four London-based art museums and galleries, as well as interviews with visitors and museum professionals—curators, educators, visitor experience managers, and invigilators. The findings show that, on the one hand, while curatorial plans still do not usually take into consideration photographic seeing, many art museums have acknowledged and responded to visitors’ demands to be allowed to take photos by relaxing their photography policies. Visitor photography has thus gradually become normalised in the gallery space. On the other hand, picture-taking can be seen as competing with direct-seeing, given the limitations on visitors’ attention and time. To some degree it has become a popularly performed ritual through which visitors re-work their ways of seeing and re-establish their connection with artworks and the museum. It is suggested that this altered dynamic between art museums, artworks, and visitors requires art museums to rethink both exhibition design and their roles as art mediators.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Sociology; art; museum; photography; visitor; experience

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



9 July 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2021 11:28

Last Modified:

09 Jul 2023 01:26


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