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Bloggers no clicking, snapping or shooting, it’s a museum!!

April 13, 2010

I was in the moment, the space, the silence, contemplating the artist’s masterpiece. His brush strokes, his use of colour, the composition, the story behind the work, I was utterly entranced. Until a click took me out of that moment and into another. One of absolute abhorrence. Some innocent camera toting souvenir hunting person took a picture of the picture and I was disgusted.

“What on earth…?” I heard myself whisper harshly to the camera holder, glaring at him before I walked off in a huff.

That was years ago when I was a self-confessed lover of all things traditional. I believed in museums having high white ceilings, ornate facades, marble columns, wooden floors and rooms cluttered with treasures; all done so I could spend hours if not days, exploring.

Time moves on, technology progresses giving us easy access to cheaper cameras in phones, compact digital numbers, and slick-looking SLR beasts; and the ever so humble but trendy Polaroid. In keeping with progress more people travel, blog, write, tweet and funny enough, long to take photos of art collections inside neo-monolithic places known to all as museums.

Wander around modern galleries and museums and there is plenty of evidence that curators have designed their space for maximum visitor interaction and enjoyment. Even cameras have been recognised as part of the modern museum experience — up to a point.

There are many museums including those hosting visiting exhibitions which still have the no shoot policy strictly enforced. With art I agree with this policy. The proclaimed fragility and sensitivity of the paint, the exposure to flash and lights, yep I’m a sucker for all this type of reasoning and I will pay my fee and view the collection sans camera.

But, for pieces of fossilised stone, mummified dummies, clay warriors and whatever turns up next, I’m less inclined to visit because I can’t see good enough reasons that support the no photography policy.

I recently visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, a place well designed and lit, a place filled with more than enough Buddha icons, chinese urns and Japanese scrolls. All of which I could hide my flash and shoot pictures until I’m blurry eyed. To this I say bravo and thanks for forward thinking.

Yet I became annoyed when I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the visiting exhibition from Shanghai, which consisted of rugs, porcelain, deco posters and scrolls. Thinking this would make a great blog post, I was excited about going in and capturing some good shots until I was informed about the no photography rule.

This has not been the first time I’ve encountered this ruling. A similar event happened in New Zealand’s Te Papa Museum with a visiting Pompei exhibition, situations have arisen with permanent collections in Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, where at one place I was requested to check my camera in before entering the exhibit.

So here’s my question:

When it comes to visiting and permanent collections, should museums embrace the free publicity from bloggers in lieu of their photography policy and if so, what is at stake for museums and their collections?

Museumsfood for thought

  • Copyright plays a big part in shaping the no shoot policy but here’s an idea, why not ask for permission from artists and copyright holders? This discussion was raised in a recent blog post To Click or Not to click where museum director David Rau put the question to his readers of curators and art bloggers. One particular comment mentioned the non negotiable rules laid out by some travelling exhibits.
  • People won’t buy postcards from the museum shop. Oh please! Hardly anybody buys these cards anymore apart from nostalgia buffs like me and those who still believe email is a fly-by night.
  • Blogging about the exhibition could discourage people from coming — I could blog about this whether I took photos or not.
  • Crowds of cameras will gather around an exhibit – true, but there are guards who can move the crowd on.
  • Photographers can capture the secrets of the exhibitions interior design and space — so can sketching and a notepad.
  • Consider connecting with blogger — The same commenter (“To click or Not to click”) suggested an online media room .

Bloggers – food for thought

  • Acknowledge the artwork and museum in the photo credits. It is time for bloggers to step up and put on a professional face.
  • Post great images and not the family snap shots on your blog. Why discredit a good art exhibit.
  • Flash photography? Don’t go there unless you have explicit permission from the museum. Not even when you think you’re alone.
  • Leave the fanatical blogger psyche at the entry door. Spend some zen time in the moment, with the art and the space and then shoot.

I’ll keep clicking where I can and continue to mumble dissatisfaction to the ticket seller. Rules are rules yes, but rules are made for reshaping, reviewing, and rewriting.

Untitled and unknown artist -- Te Papa Museum NZ

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. April 14, 2010 7:04 am

    I’ve under the impression that many places will begin charging for photography, which would be a shame. I think in most cases not allowing photography (outside of art galleries) is in the interest of earning more profit.

    • April 14, 2010 9:22 am

      Anil I haven’t heard about the charging policy, although I wouldn’t be surprised. To me that just seems like another way of getting money from the visitor. Not a positive way to interact with bloggers either.

  2. April 14, 2010 11:40 am

    Luckily I can click freely during my hiking trip, neither the critters nor the plant are “allergic” to my camera.

  3. April 14, 2010 11:57 am

    The whole policy annoys me. If you’re allowed to take photos inside the British Museum (they see it as part of their remit to provide open and free access to the world), you should be allowed to take photos anywhere. I support no-flash policies because it can damage old, delicate artifacts (not just paintings but stone and clay and mummies too). However, these days most cameras have high ISO settings that mean the flash is unnecessary. There is no reason beside control freakery that this shouldn’t be allowed.

    Copyright only comes into the question if the artwork was created in the last century or so. For the Louvre to claim copyright over the Mona Lisa is absurd. The artwork was created hundreds of years before the concept of copyright was even invented. If copyright did exist, which it doesn’t, it would belong to Leonardo Da Vinci’s descendants, not the institution.

  4. April 15, 2010 12:17 am

    I am of the belief that once you pay the admission fee, you’re entitled to take photographs. I support the no-flash photography in places where it is warranted because it could damage the artwork but that is all.

    When I recently visited La Scala in Milan, photography was not allowed which was very disappointing. I stood in place for nearly 10 minutes trying to absorb the detail while people moved around me and still, I can’t remember much of the detail after a while. I find it takes away from the memory of the visit.

  5. April 15, 2010 9:07 am

    Caitlin – if the British Museum can do it why not others? I think many museums are struggling to move forward. They want to keep the old values of what a museum should be about — that of contemplation and reflection — instead of interaction and enjoyment.

    If these places continue to bury their heads in the sand the modern world will move on without them and younger generations will miss out on their history.

    Copyright is an easy excuse to use as it covers so many arguments, but it is also transparent and we are not fools.

    Gourmantic – right on the mark there! it is impossible to absorb every detail of museum works, unless you live around the area and can visit the place anytime. What a shame you couldn’t take pictures.

  6. April 15, 2010 3:07 pm

    I also get a bit annoyed if there’s a no photo policy – although when I visited the Don McCullin exhibition in Manchester recently they had a no photo policy and I respected that because of copyright reasons and also it would have spoiled the appreciation of the very moving war photos. However I got around that because I contacted the PR department and they sent me photos to use in my post. If you’re a blogger who really wants to cover it, you should just ask the PR dept of the museum concerned

    However I really got annoyed when I visited a National Trust property and the attendant looked horrified that I should even suggest taking photos – as a result I didn’t write about the property because without the photos I felt I could’t really do something worthwhile.

  7. April 16, 2010 8:26 am

    I like the idea of contacting PR, by the look of the images in your post Heather, they make the post complete. I never thought of contacting PR, it has it’s pros.

    I also get annoyed when attendants balk at the idea of you taking a picture, like you’re some kind of heathen which you are not otherwise you wouldn’t be in a museum in the first place.

  8. April 18, 2010 11:35 am

    I love museums and art galleries where you’re allowed to take photos, but if they have a photo policy you obviously should accept it. I haven’t thought about contacting PR dept before either. Great idea!

  9. April 20, 2010 8:23 am

    Erica, respecting policies works up to a point but at times rules need to be challenged don’t you think?


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