Peter Barnes: architectural & industrial photographer, Adelaide, South Australia | Glass on photographic prints - why?

Glass, what is it good for?

This morning I was in Melbourne with some time to spare so took myself off to the National Gallery of Victoria's (NGV) Ian Potter Centre to see the Stormy Weather - Contemporary Landscape Photography exhibition which has been running there since last September.  I was particularly keen to see the two photographs by Murray Fredericks, artist and commercial photographer, from his SALT series that I knew were part of this show.  

And I was very disappointed.  These are large ink jet prints, 1.5 by 1.2 metres, and framed behind glass.  The curator had chosen two of the most subtley coloured and toned images from the series, which as the artist puts it, is about the "pure space of the empty 'wasteland' of Lake Eyre in central Australia." But when I looked at these prints, what struck me most was my own reflection and that of the prints on the other side of the gallery.  

I have seen the excellent documentary film by Fredericks and collaborators about the making of these images, so I know they are the result of a lot of creative effort and physical hardship.  And I assume that the prints were expertly and carefully crafted, as befits images which have been exhibited world-wide, and acquired by major public and private collections including the NGV, one of Australia's biggest and most prestigious public art museums.  So why mount them behind a medium which makes it impossible to properly appreciate the artistry of the photographer or the craft of the printer? 

For years now I have resented having to dodge and squint in an effort to get a good view of prints behind the reflections on the glass protecting them.  I thought it was because often they were lit badly or there were windows allowing natural light to play havoc.  I thought that prestigious public galleries, in very expensive purpose built public buildings, would know how to control light so that reflections were not an issue. I am sure that I have seen glassed prints in galleries where careful lighting and no windows meant that reflections were controlled.  But not at the National Gallery of Victoria this morning.