Well, I had the same problem with a cron to chown and chmod all photos shared 
by the accounts of my family.
I solved this by modifying the script launched by the cron to abort when an 
instance of Shotwell is running.
Since this shotwell did not freeze any more.
But I think that a chown or a chmod on a n image of the gallery should not make 
Shotwell freeze.

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  shotwell hangs when browsing photos or simply while using the mouse
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