Sign of the times:

When the Camera Takes Over for the Eye

Published: September 4, 2011

SCIENTISTS have yet to determine what percentage of art-viewing these days is done through the viewfinder of a camera or a cellphone, but clearly the figure is on the rise. Thatís why Ruth Fremson, the intrepid photographer for The New York Times who covered the Venice Biennale this summer, returned with so many images of people doing more or less what she was doing: taking pictures of works of art or people looking at works of art. More or less.

Only two of the people in these pictures is using a traditional full-service camera (similar to the ones Ms. Fremson carried with her) and actually holding it to the eye. Everyone else is wielding either a cellphone or a mini-camera and looking at a small screen, which tends to make the framing process much more casual. It is changing the look of photography.

The ubiquity of cameras in exhibitions can be dismaying, especially when read as proof that most art has become just another photo op for evidence of Kilroy-was-here passing through. More generously, the camera is a way of connecting, participating and collecting fleeting experiences.

For better and for worse, it has become intrinsic to many peopleís aesthetic responses. (Judging by the number of pictures Ms. Fremson took of people photographing Urs Fischerís life-size statue of the artist Rudolf Stingel as a lighted candle, it is one of the more popular pieces at the Biennale, which runs through Nov. 27.) And the cameraís presence in an image can seem part of its strangeness, as with Ms. Fremsonís shot of the gentleman photographing a photo-mural by Cindy Sherman that makes Ms. Sherman, costumed as a circus juggler, appear to be posing just for him. She looks more real than she did in the actual installation.

Of course a photograph of a person photographing an artistís photograph of herself playing a role is a few layers of an onion, maybe the kind to be found only among picture-takers at an exhibition.