People Looking at Art

Mark Blower turns his camera on the audience, exposing the intimacy of the exhibition experience


A lot of London-based photographer Mark Blower’s work centers on art; like his intimate portraits of contemporary artists, including Marina Abramovic and Grayson Perry, and his “Documentation” photos of art installations. For his latest series, “People Looking at Art,” Mark has chosen to turn his camera on the audience, rather than the artists or their works.


The project portrays gallery visitors at a number of recent art shows, in a fly-on-the-wall style that gives a fascinating insight into how people behave when nobody’s looking. In beautifully shot images, it reveals how personal our interactions with the subject are, as viewers regard the artworks with expressions of awe, concentration, wonder and confusion. Some shows seemingly invite interaction, while others have a far more formal feel.

“People Looking at Art“ is a joyful homage to art, and essential viewing for anyone who’s ever wondered what facial expression and degree of concentration, exactly, is appropriate when perusing an art exhibition. We spoke to Mark about what made him begin the project, and how to catch people while they’re in the moment.

What inspired you to start the “People Looking at Art” project?

I’m lucky enough to be employed by several galleries to take photographs at their openings. While I was there primarily to capture the interactions of people with each other, it soon became apparent that people looking at art and the way they interact with it was really interesting to me and the project has kind of snowballed.


Looking at art is generally a private experience; was it different to take pictures of that moment compared to the more conventional portraits you take? Did you have to hide to get the best shots?

[Laughs] I didn’t have to hide exactly, but I do try to be as low key as possible. Yes, there’s a big difference. Unlike portraiture, where I’m looking for a connection with the subject and will often direct them to a certain degree, in these photographs I’m trying to capture something else entirely.


What did you discover about how people respond to art in galleries, and did people behave differently at different exhibitions?

Absolutely. Some work invites physical interaction, climbing over, sitting on etc, which seems to put people in a more playful mood, where other shows are much more “look but don’t touch.” I also really like photographing people looking at the work while reading the press release, trying to find a way into the subject matter.


There’s an amazing clarity to the pictures and their colors. What did you shoot with?

Thank you! I use a digital SLR with a standard prime lens and whatever light is available. I think not having a big zoom or flash makes the camera seem a little less imposing, it also keeps me on my toes moving in and out to get the shot. I try to isolate the subject using quite a narrow depth of field.

Finally, is this an ongoing project?

Very much so, I love it.

Check in periodically for “People Looking at Art” updates on Mark Blower’s website.

Images courtesy of Mark Blower