Thursday, August 20, 2009

Museum Photo Policies Should Be as Open as Possible

I'm working on a section of my book about sharing social objects and am writing about the most common way that visitors share their object experiences in museums: through photographs. While doing research, I found myself digging back into old arguments on museum listservs about photo policies and I want to add my two (very opinionated) cents on this.

While the majority of experience-based museums like children's and science museums have unrestricted noncommercial photography policies, many collections-based art and history museums continue to maintain highly restrictive photo policies. As I understand it, there are five main arguments for restrictive policies:
  1. Intellectual Property: Museums must respect diverse intellectual property agreements with donors and lenders, and in institutions where some objects are photographable and others not, it's often easier to use the most restrictive agreements as the basis for institutional policies.
  2. Conservation: Objects may be damaged by flash photography. Some conservators argue that if non-flash photography is permitted, light levels in the galleries may be increased to accommodate visitors' cameras, which indirectly damage artifacts.
  3. Revenue Streams: Museums want to maintain control of sales of "officially sanctioned" images of objects via catalogues and postcards. If people can take their own photos, they won't buy them in the gift shop.
  4. Aesthetics of Experience: Photo-taking is distracting for other visitors. Looking at artwork through a lens means you are having a less rich experience. Visitors may make inappropriate gestures in photos with museum content, thus distorting institutional values and intent.
  5. Security: Photographers might take photos with intent to do harm; for example, with plans to rob the museum or stalk another visitor.
I respect the first and second arguments. I understand the third, though I think it is misguided. And I think the fourth and fifth are bizarre and ungenerous to visitors.

To me, an open photo policy is a cornerstone of any institution that sees itself as a visitor-centered platform for participatory engagement. Here are five reasons I think museums should have totally open photo policies:
  1. As long as it does not promote unsafe conditions for artifacts or people or illegal behavior, museums should prioritize providing opportunities for visitors to engage in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them. Yes, some people (especially vocal museum staff!) hate the sight of people taking photos in museums. But what about visitors? If your argument is based on visitor comfort and distraction, it should be backed up by visitor research, not personal impressions. Would staff members who hate photography be comparably disturbed by visitors sketching in the galleries? Sketching takes up more space and is more distracting than photo-taking (and pencils could be used to damage objects!), and yet many museum professionals look benevolently upon that activity as a positive meaning-making visitor experience. This is prejudicial treatment. I know that many people are uncomfortable with the growing culture of self-documentation, but no one should let their own aesthetic preferences dictate others' behavior without good reason.
  2. Restrictive policies erode staff/visitor relations and overall museum mission statements around inclusion. The majority of cellphones now have cameras embedded in them, which means that many visitors are walking through your doors with camera in hand. Visitors get upset when they are told to put their cameras away, and it is becoming increasingly hard for guards (and, down the road, marketing staff) to control the taking of photographs and their spread on the Web. Telling visitors that they can't take photos in museums reinforces the sense that the museum is an external authority that owns and controls its objects rather than a shared public resource. How can visitors be "co-owners" of museums if they can't own an image from their experience?
  3. Photo-taking allows visitors to memorialize and make meaning from museum experiences. There have been several studies that show that creating a personal record of an experience and reviewing it later increases learning and retention of content. When visitors flip through photos from their trip, they are more likely to recall their interest in a given artifact or exhibit than without visual aids. And it's not just about recall. There are thriving groups of Flickr users who share photos of themselves imitating art. When my mom, sister and I visited the de Young sculpture garden, we spent about an hour posing alongside the sculptures, which forced us to spend a lot of time carefully observing the art and directing each other into position (see above photo). We spent significantly more time with the art to create these photos than we would have had we just been strolling through.
  4. Visitors use personal photos differently from store-bought ones. The majority of visitors use their cameras to casually record their personal and social experiences, not to take authoritative images of artifacts. A visitor who wants a picture of "mom with the giant penis statue" wants something that the museum is not selling. Visitors who want "the best shot ever of the penis statue" are still likely to buy in the store. And even if visitors do take authoritative (noncommercial) shots, they are unlikely to reduce sales. A great shot of your institution, shared on Flickr, serves as a free piece of marketing that may generate ticket sales. How do you measure the potential lost income from a photographer not buying a postcard against the online impressions his photo makes on others? In the related world of online image licensing, some museums have done studies of the affect of open digital photo distribution on their revenue from image licensing and have seen flat or positive effects from the actions, not negative ones (see this in-depth paper from the Powerhouse Museum).
  5. When people share their photos of your museum, they promote and spread your content to new audiences in authentic ways. In 2008, a team led by MIT media researcher Henry Jenkins published a white paper entitled, "If it Doesn't Spread, It's Dead," which argues that media artifacts have greatest impact when consumers are able to pass on, reuse, adapt, and remix them. There are two parts to this. First, every time a photo is shared, it extends the reach of your objects and exhibit stories. But perhaps more importantly, Jenkins argues that the creative adaptation of cultural objects through photos and other spreading tools supports communities' "processes of meaning making, as people use tools at their disposal to explain the world around them."
At the conclusion of Jenkins' paper, the team claims:
"So what is spreadable media good for?
  • To generate active commitment from the audience,
  • To empower them and make them an integral part of your product's success,
  • To benefit from online word-of-mouth
  • To reach niche, highly interconnected audiences,
  • but most of all, to communicate with audiences where they already are, and in a way that they value.


Those who have the most to lose are those companies which:

  • have well established brand messages
  • have messages that are predictably delivered through broadcast channels
  • who are concerned about a loss of control over their intellectual property
  • who have reason to fear backlash from their consumers.

Even here, remaining outside of the spreadable model altogether may cut them off from younger and more digitally connected consumers who spend less time consuming traditional broadcast content or who are increasingly suspicious of top-down advertising campaigns."

Of course, museums shouldn't let marketing desires, popular opinion, or cultural forces drive all decisions. The intellectual property arguments in particular are very complex and should be taken seriously. But visitors and visitor research deserve voices in the discussion about whether photo policies are open or closed. The cultural and educational value of spreadability deserves weight in decision-making. From my perspective, this value is so high that I'd recommend museums think twice about taking on temporary exhibitions or loans that would endanger the ability to allow visitors to take photos across the institution.

And one final thought on this topic: I've been surprised to learn that some museums have restrictive photo policies and aren't sure why. I've heard stories of museum staff at two large institutions trying to figure out who "owns" the policy--conservation, marketing, curatorial, etc.--so that it might be revised. If you don't know why you restrict photography in your institution, please think about both the benefits AND the drawbacks of allowing photography before you perpetuate the policy.

56 comments, add yours!:

justinph said...

Until the visiting public (or better yet, big-time donors) starts to vocally complain when institutions have draconian policies, I don't see photo policies changing much.

Even as a big advocate of unrestrictive photo policies, I think that refusing to take an exhibition based on the photo rights it might cause for the visiting public is pretty far down on the list. It's a nice idea, but I just don't see it happening.

And, just to be the devil's advocate: I can kind of see the whole experience like going to a movie or a concert. No one gets up in arms about prohibiting photography or recording during a performance or a movie. You can only see that movie in one place (the theater), you can pay $15 to get your own copy on DVD (just like you can come to our shop to buy a postcard). But you still pay ten bucks to get in the door...

Battle Park said...

Great post... and you've nailed something I've been preaching for years.

I am one of those awful people who takes pictures at museums. I've been told all sorts of reasons why these policies exist, none of which I truly understand - especially after I explain why I do it and who I am.

Almost universally I am given a pass (except at some art museums, which I DO understand).

I brought this up at a talk I gave at the New England Museum Assoc Conference last year and received almost universal assent - with one or two folks sticking to their old school guns.

Look - I write a fairly popular blog about CT museums (just featured on another local news site today). I've done the unscientific research and can state with absolute certainty that my pictures (lame as they are) and write ups PROMOTE and generate visitors.

I used to wonder if I was giving ppl an excuse NOT to visit. I wonder no more though... In today's world, social media and blogs ARE the best advertising vehicle for 90% of our museums. It only makes sense to allow for pictures.

Jim Richardson said...

One very clear memory I took away from a recent visit to new York was being shouted at by a member of staff in the Guggenheim for trying to take a picture of my daughter against the backdrop of the skylight in the middle of the museum (no artwork at all could possibly have been in the frame from the angle I was taking the picture).

I was embarrassed, annoyed and I'll never visit that museum again.

Shelley said...

Changing our policy three years ago to allow for non-commercial visitor photography was one of the best things we've done at Brooklyn. We do continue to have some restrictions in temporary installations depending on the lender agreements or artist wishes, but on the whole photography is allowed here and it is central to a visitor-freindly philosophy.

It wasn't easy - we've had to actively think about it and work language into lender and artist agreements. Sometimes there are no objections to these clauses and we can allow it or other times we have to restrict, but *trying* to allow it is one of the many processes we now go through any time we are bringing work into the building or working with artists. The theory is there's no harm in asking the question...if lenders/artists say no we respect that and communicate the restriction to visitors in those instances. On the whole, we find visitors have been fairly respectful of the policies even when we can allow it in one part of the building, but perhaps not another.

It's funny, of all the "technology" that I see going wrong in galleries these days, I most often see visitors really engaging with work more with their cameras than anything else. It's one of the only things I see working.

Peregrine Project Member (Nick M.) said...

I think the arguments brought out here are totally valid.
Today I ran an activity in which we brought out natural science specimens and live stick insects for people to appreciate and chat about camouflage. Parents loved seeing their brave children with phasmids running up and down their arms, and the cellphones came out in great numbers. I never once thought that these photos contravened our photo policy (even though it did) and I didn't really care. I think our organisation is going to evolve into one that accepts Nina's arguments. And the sooner the better in my view.

POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) said...

Hi Nina,

Good post.

This issue fits into a bigger picture of structuring museum experiences that allow/encourage/build upon visitors bringing their own technology (smart phones, cameras, etc.) with the museums providing engaging objects and experiences and spaces that provide opportunities for social interplay that are platform/device independent.

I'm afraid too much museum programming is still trapped in the thrall of hardware.

Elizabeth S. said...

For our modest university museum, the policy is based on photo rights issues, usually from artists' estates that are highly restrictive. Once we paid for the usage of an image for 3 years for a work in our own collection that we didn't have repro rights to -- this is not uncommon with major 20th century artists. As soon as the 3 years were up, sure enough we were contacted & told we could not use the image for any PR or similar use. This doesn't happen all the time, but often enough to be a hinderance to an open photography policy, at least with modern & contemporary art.

Heidi Raatz said...

I could not agree more, both as a museum visitor who takes foto's during my experience & as a museum employee. The visitor's aim is primarily to contextualize & share their experience. If photography is done with awareness of saftey towards the works (no flash, proper distance, etc.) why do museums, or lenders for that matter, place barriers on this practice of engagement?

Elizabeth S. said...

Just FYI, here's a link to the Artists Rights Society. -- just to point out that there are organizations who are paid to protect artists' copyright AND monitor and stop copyright infringement. They represent over 50,000 artists and artists' estates. ARS is vigilant but also fair--we've worked with them in the past and received permission to use images by artists & estates that they represent.

I'm just bringing this up to make sure everyone knows that at least with art museums, and especially modern and contemporary art, the no- photography policy may be in place because of these kinds of restrictions. And to be frank, the artists represented by ARS alone, not to mention the other agencies, are simply too important to Western art history to consider not including in exhibitions or collections because of copyright restrictions. Warhol, Stella, Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, O'Keeffe, Dali.. you name a major artist and chances are they'll be represented by ARS.

Battle Park said...

CAn I ask a dumb question? Regarding the - completely logical - restriction of photos are art museums...

To abuse an artist or the art itself via copyright infringement, wouldn't the only way be to take serious time to set up the best possible photo? And the lighting is never perfect regardless. And 90% (at least) of said art is available via simple google image searches, albeit with watermarks usually...

My point being, schmoes like me my ilk with point and shoot little digital cameras taking pictures at distance, often with people in the shot - what can we possibly do with those pictures to infringe?

What am I missing?

Nina Simon said...

It's not a dumb question. My understanding is this (and maybe Elizabeth can help!):
You own the photos you take, because you are the creator of that art. In many cases, owners of other pieces of art (i.e. artists or museums) may want to restrict your ability to create derivative works, and it is within their rights to do so. So when a museum buys or borrows an object, whether from an artist, a lender, or a donor, the owner of that object often puts statements in contract saying that the museum may not make their own visual reproductions nor allow visitors to do so. Similarly, museums may make their own restrictions on the objects that they own. Taking a photo doesn't violate copyright of an object, but it violates the owner's right to restrict access if he or she has legally demanded that right.

I think.

Elizabeth S. said...

I think you're right Nina -- I'm no copyright expert by any means, and Steve, you're no schmo. :0 ) One thing to point out with ARS at least is that museums usually pay an organization like that a fee to use an image for PR & educational use by the Museum -- not by visitors. The use is limited by a certain amount of time. There are financial repercussions for violating these permission agreements.

Regarding what a visitor might do with an image that may be a copyright infringement, well I don't think most visitors take photos and then go out and make a mug or t-shirt that they then sell. Although that's a lot easier to do now than it used to be! But one thing an artist might object to is say a person using an image of an artwork for their own gain, such as a logo on a website or some other means by which the image is exposed to the public in a manner it wasn't intended. I'm not talking about Flickr but like a website to promote your freelance consulting business, that kind of thing.

I'm not going to argue that such copyright restrictions are good or bad. Just making the point that these issues exist and sometimes copyright control is not in the hands of the museums.


The obvious analogy here would be to people making bootleg recordings at concerts, which might be for their own or their friends' use or might be intended for resale. My sense is that the existence of bootlegs is not what has undercut official/sanctioned/higher-quality recordings over the years - that's been done more by the greater availability of technology for sharing and reproducing the materials.

Extending the analogy, I guess a museum with a restrictive photo policy is like a band or recording company that's trying to clamp down on audiences' ability to capture their protected product, while what Nina's advocating here is something more like the Grateful Dead's approach, where people have always been allowed to capture and disseminate the concert materials in whatever way they chose. In the case of the Dead, that openness is largely what has *created* their brand, rather than diminishing it - a whole different paradigm from the commercialized one that underpins the restrictive model that most museums are operating in!

tbarnardiii said...

Cleveland has always allowed photography with restrictions.

1. Visitors can't use a tripod (security, no umbrellas either)

2. No photographs of modern or contemporary art--the museum can't even publish photos of its own collection (we have to pay a fee to the intellectual property holder, VAGA and ARS)

3. No photos in exhibitions. The objects come from multiple lending institutions with all sorts of strings attached. Again, just to publish an image from another museum, the museum itself must get clearances from the owner, often with no crop/no type limitations.

In Cleveland, the rules change from gallery-to-gallery. This can be frustrating to the visitor so perhaps for many institutions the easiest thing is to have a no photo policy.

And finally. How to take a photo without a tripod. Use the self timer so the camera doesn't jiggle, keep the flash off to avoid reflections, brace it against the wall (or on a bench) if there is one close enough. if not, hold camera against your head and exhale slowly as the camera is about to fire. Post it on flickr and tag the name of the museum and join their flickr group.

Maureen said...

Thanks for this post, Nina! I also believe "museum photo policies should be as open as possible". I would add that museums who haven't already created open policies should not drag their feet.

Although, the issue of openness is more difficult for contemporary arts museums, due to the misguided extension of the copyright law (the Mickey Mouse Law), museums can adopt more open photo policies through some fairly simple steps. The Cleveland Museum offers a fantastic list! Museums can also revise their acquisition policies, to negotiate rights of reproduction whenever possible, and challenge copyrights suites against them by organizations, such as ARS.

Unfortunately, challenges are rare. I've heard of museums quietly paying fines to ARS, even though the alleged infringement was highly questionable. For example, a university museum was fined when their website displayed images of copyrighted works that were part of a page on a student-curated exhibit. The original activity and arguably its depiction on the website were educational, which ought to have made them exempt from a copyright infringement, but the university's lawyer advised them to pay the $500 rather than run the risk of lost money, time and PR caused by a court case. Now ARS has them on their watch list, patrolling their web presences for infringements.

It's important for museums to engage with the issue of photo policy sooner rather than later, because the opportunity to exert an influence and garner good will could be lost. As a commenter pointed out, museums could go the way of the music industry, where pirating is the norm. The sheer number of digital devices carried around, their size and connectivity; the wide-spread attitude that information wants to be free; and the growing expectation that we should be able to connect wherever and whenever we want may make it impossible for museums to enforce anything but open photo policies. Better for museums to get on the wagon fast and perhaps influence the formation of some useful policies. Or, at the very least, get some credit for implementing an open policy!

Elizabeth S said...

The one factor that I don't think has been mentioned is the artist. I believe that a larger % of artists working today are more comfortable with relaxing copyright and more savvy about the benefits of sharing their images. This was not the case a generation ago & before. We're sort of operating in this middle ground between old & new guard with financial costs for crossing the line. The Dead can encourage bootlegging b/c they are the creators--museums are not creators in this sense but presenters. As more artists become comfortable with that Dead or Radiohead approach, things will change. But I'm not sure when/ if things will change for the 20th century masters "club" any time soon.

J Goreham-Penney said...

The museum I work at is located on a military base. We have an open photo policy here in the museum (we've got planes and bells- they can't really suffer too much from light damage) but out of doors, we do have to abide by the base's photo policy, which is security guided. Recently, a visitor told me he was trying to photograph a few collection pieces that we house out of doors (we're not keeping them and waiting for them to be collected by another institution) and the military police approached him, and made him delete his memory card right there on the spot, by order of the base commander! Granted, this isn't the norm for most institutions, but a fun anecdote considering what Nina's talking about here in her post...

Anonymous said...

Nina: thanks for the wonderful post, as ever. I hope more institutions take your advice and make photo policies as open as possible.. and I'd have thought that in 99.99% of the time that would mean free to photo.

I wanted to say in regards to conservation. As a conservator I think it high time conservators started rethinking their approach to issues like this. There are alternative solutions to the false dichotomy that you have unfortunately had to present as normal conservation behaviour, these alternatives might allow both flash/non-flash photography and protect the objects; in at least the vast majority of cases.

I personally would love to see more photo in museums, more use of photos online, and particularly museums encourage creative re-use and remixing of photos taken within their institutions. Encouraging the use of creative commons, and the use of particular tags and then even building remix projects around them, for example. Hey, why not even then exhibiting those remixes?!

jgoreham: thanks for the hilarious story. Reminded me of the "Plane spotters" a group of english enthusiasts who were arrested in Greece for plane spotting... a peculiar, but seemingly popular, English past time.

All the best, Dan.

photo enhancement said...

I think the internet is partially to blame for the no photo policy. Everything nowadays end up on flickr or one of those types of sites!

Roberta said...

As I am travelling for a year, I am spending more time in museums, and I am frequently figuring out the varying policies, which often don't make sense to me. I totally "get" no flash photos; I begrugingly accept no exhibit photos, but I otherwise find the variance between museums baffling. Entering a museum, I find myself thinking about whether photos will be allowed or not, and if not, if that policy will be enforced. I used to follow the rules to a T, but when I have travelled a long way, it is confusing to be one who follows the rules surrounded by other visitors who don't.... why should those people before and after me who diss the rules get pics and vivid memories, while I don't? I finally joined the crowd of "if the guard isn't looking, go for it"... If I'm caught, I plead ignorance and do put away my camera. All this leads to a cat and mouse game where I am dodging the guards, finding guard-free angles, etc.... But I would rather have my attention on the art!!!! And if a piece moves me, to enjoy snapping a pic. And moving onto the next piece... I will have a friend join me on this trip who doesn't like art, but I think she would if she interacted with it. I think allowing pics would allow my friend to "get into" art, by finding pieces she likes, taking her own pics, getting a feeling of being welcomed by a museum, and sharing her experiences with others. I like to think of museums as making history and art accessible to all; with photo restrictions, it can be an elite crowd. Imagine how a passion for art could be spread when someone, largely "ignorant" of art gets excited by a co-worker's pics and saves up and plans a trip to see a work, or works, that they would not otherwise see in their lifetime? And takes pics to send to their friends? Or someone who could never possibly afford to travel to great museums can live vicariously through a friend? This is making art accessible! For now, my blog - which many people are following back home - will be a mix of "great museum, here are some works that exsited me" and "great museum, mo pics allowed but here are a couple I snuck" and "great museum, trust me, here is a pic of the exterior / giftshop"... Those living vicariously will either get excited about the works, or be left with nothing to inspire them to give art a try and head to their local museum... Museums: show us the dark ages in art, but do not keep living there

Unknown said...

Great post, Nina. You might be interesting in reading this post by illustrator Gant Powell, who was asked not to use his sketchbook at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. he wrote a great letter to the museum and posted it here:

Nina Simon said...

Wow, Rafael, thank you so much for sharing that letter. I find it extremely wild, almost Orwellian, that this happened.

San Francisco Mobile Museum said...

Hey Nina,

This article just came across my screen and made me laugh... as well as think back to this topic.


Bill Collins said...

Well written! Thank you. I found your blog as item #1 on Google since I was trying to understand why a museum in Quebec would prohibit photo-taking. The irony? An intriguing (and large) art object in the museum (ironically not an art museum) did *not* appear on any postcards in the museum store! I now find myself wanting to research the basis for the claim that flash photograph destroys art. It's a form of light. If there's light on the image or object to begin with, how much does it accelerate the decay. Anyway, thank you for your thoughts!

Unknown said...

It's 4/10, but just read your post from last August. I'm a mother of 3 and though my children are all teenagers now - we exposed them to art at an early age. I was just reviewing pics from a trip to Paris in 03. To engage my young children during our visits to many art museums, we would play games like eye spy, etc. We also asked them to pick 3 favorites from each museum. Once selected, they would pose and have their pic taken in front of each one. I have several pics of my kids proudly standing in front of "their" paintings or sculptures. I recently asked them about it and my 17 year old said "Oh yea! I remember that. I picked one that had a hawk eating his prey. That was cool!" My daughter treasures the pic of her in front of Starry Night - her favorite painting by her favorite artist on a memorable 16th birthday trip to NYC. Having the ability to photograph inside the Louvre and the MOMA (no flash, of course) helped my children feel connected to the art and the experience. Though none of my children are true artists,they spend their time on various sports fields, they all have a strong appreciation for the arts. I have no doubt that they will be patrons and strong supporters throughout their lives. Without the ability to take their pics., their early experiences with art museums would not have had this positive lasting impression.

Matthew R. Kee said...

"Open as Possible" is no advisable with IP and forgery going on.

Now a bad review so we'll add you to June's installment so other readers will know.

Singh said...

fairly an interesting post. It is high time that museum should widen its policy to make more and more watchful rather than staying always passive.

kamagra online said...

I enjoy taking photos in museums and galleries. There are about a dozen legitimate reasons why museums and galleries might want to ban photography for preventing damage to the exhibits is not legitimate. I agree that museums and other public institutions are often over obsessive about avoiding photography and anything else that might present a copyright issue.

louis said...

fairly an interesting post. It is high time that museum should widen its policy to make more and more watchful rather than staying always passive.

tanie wczasy said...

i love your post! thyank you

hcg diet said...

My girlfriend visited Paris last summer and she has a picture similar to this with her and her friends holding up the Eiffel Tower. Made me chuckle a bit when I saw you posing like the statue.

pharmacy said...

Hmmm why not just sneak a few quick pictures with a cell phone camera with the flash disabled? If its a crowded location or you have a few friends with you, that makes it easy to get away with! Sometimes its just easier to quietly break certain rules than question or try to change them!

Buy Xenical said...

Great pose. Loved the photo. Thanks for the post.

a. companies said...

These days you could do so many thinks with digital photos that you want to get your own. At least you could have them as a screensaver on your computer. Additionally, meuseum staff do not have to chase the visitors around trying to stop them taking pictures.

Generic Viagra said...

Whenever i visit a museum in a foreign country, i love to take photos of the things i see. Both b/c they are interesting and because i would like to remember my trip. I think its a shame when museum policy does not allow for such!

apotek dk said...

Jeg er bare at bringe dette op for at sikre, at alle ved, at i det mindste med kunstmuseer, og især moderne og nutidig kunst, kan ingen fotografering politik være på plads på grund af disse former for restriktioner.

nursing scrubs said...

Easy solution: turn the flash off! I know that the flash is what damages the paint filaments and such. Just my $0.02.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum said...

Bill: Flash photography can be particularly problematic for some museums due to the amount of ultraviolet light put out by some types of flash.

Museums that curate objects with delicate dyes, paints or fabrics that aren't completely "light-fast" can sometimes go to extreme lengths to try to eliminate stray u-v.

Dennis said...

Oh wow, this got every one going - fascinating input mixed with a good read.

Melvin said...

Oh wow, this got every one going - fascinating input mixed with a good read

david said...

I just think if you stick to not allowing flash photography then you will not have these problems. Just an idea.

Kam said...

I do not understand these policies? when has having a picture ever been the same as going to see a piece of art, if I want to see a picture of an artwork I can probably find one within 2 minutes online, art is about being there the subtleties of the texture etc.. So anyone should be allowed to take a picture if anything they will show it to a friend and they will come to see it too etc... Open your doors and policies.

Kamagra 100mg said...

For our modest university museum, the policy is based on photo rights issues, usually from artists' estates that are highly restrictive. Once we paid for the usage of an image for 3 years for a work in our own collection that we didn't have repro rights to -- this is not uncommon with major 20th century artists. As soon as the 3 years were up, sure enough we were contacted & told we could not use the image for any PR or similar use. This doesn't happen all the time, but often enough to be a hinderance to an open photography policy, at least with modern & contemporary art.

Harmonia said...

I'm sorry, I really disagree with you on this topic.
I think all 5 of the justifications you mention are valid,
though you're right that the last two are a bit out there. Still I can't imagine such rules exist unless precedents have been set for them.

I find the constant photographing of EVERYTHING
these days extremely rude and to be blunt,
childishly narcissistic. Not everything in the world,
including art and artifacts on display in museums, is about me me me. It's important to respect the integrity
of a piece by giving full attention (or pretending to
by not distracting other visitors)
and not insisting on insinuating oneself into it.

Sketching is not more distracting than photography--the focus with sketching is on studying the piece, not on posing
in front of it or using it as a souvenir.

I have enjoyed European museums, as have many people before me and they have the strictest policies against photography. That didn't get the way of my appreciation.

I like your creativity, but I don't like your eagerness to toss all traditional elements out the window.
That is a big and dangerous mistake.

Dave said...

I personally think the restriction of flash photography is the solution :)

Raspberry Ketones Walmart and Insanity Asylum review

drugstore said...

Some what agree with your point because its my personal experience. I myself dont buy photos from museum as I carry my camera with my own.

Edward Tsui said...

Well-thought out article on the issue, congratulations. I am pushing on the same issue related to public museums/galleries in Hong Kong;I hope at least we can generate a debate and change in our city. Right now I am writing to the authority for responses and hopefully start a ripple or two. You can see my article (and follow-ups at below):

One thing I don't want, as excuse to improvement, is to find photo-taking charge!!! for visitors - this policy I found in some art galleries in Berlin, absolutely ridiculous. Take care

milton said...

It's funny, of all the "technology" that I see going wrong in galleries these days, I most often see visitors really engaging with work more with their cameras than anything else.

northierthanthou said...

Excellent write-up and thank you for running through the issues.

robert said...

I completely agree with this post. I’m a huge art enthusiast who always brings his point-n-shot when he attends a museum, but before I whip out my camera I always ask permission from the staff, and I take my photos in the most non-disruptive manner possible. I usually do a general walk through of the collections, taking in all the pieces which interest me, and then a quick run with my camera, staying out of the way of other visitors. My main interest is documenting panel information so I have a record of the pieces I enjoyed, and also to capture those little intimate details you don’t see via web images. All these photos are for my own personal use, but occasionally I’ll write a post highlighting a particular piece, and I always mention the item location and encourage people to visit the museum.

If the museum does not allow photos, that’s fine. I just write down the item information for later. However, if I know of the no-photo policy in advance, and if the museum is charging what I consider to be a higher than usual admission fee, then I might spend my time and money elsewhere. That’s the decision I make as a potential visitor/customer.

Also, here’s a tip: If you want to get an in-focus shot without a tripod, switch to ‘continuous’ and it’ll take multiple shots, and at least one of them will be in focus. ;)

Great post. I agree.

Edward Tsui said...

Agreed with Robert. Since my post on the Warhol museum in HK and correspondence with the curators, it seems that they are changing and many of the exhibitions there allow photography. Let's keep on pushing and raise voices!

SOHS Curator said...

As a curator responsible for the welfare of our collection, my bottom-line question is technical. Do the "new" camera and phone flashes emit the same type and strength of light as old-fashioned cameras? My Director seems to think they do not, and wants us to allow flash. I know that ALL light damage is cumulative, and do not want to allow it. What does science say about this? Any study results?

SOHS Curator said...

As a curator responsible for the welfare of our collection, my bottom-line question is technical. Do the "new" camera and phone flashes emit the same type and strength of light as old-fashioned cameras? My Director seems to think they do not, and wants us to allow flash. I know that ALL light damage is cumulative, and do not want to allow it. What does science say about this? Any study results?

Unknown said...

I know this post is over three years old now, but I was wondering if anyone out there in the museum world has noticed a shift or change towards photography by private individuals? Also, I wanted to get current opinions about some points I'll be stating below:

I completely understand the mission of museums being charged with the preservation and protection of artifacts and items entrusted to their collections. At the same time though, why are most institutions so restrictive about access or personal photography?

If I wanted to utilize research materials and records at a museum regarding a particular work of art that has caught my eye, I've found that in some cases, unless I am in the academic field or some type of professional that I'll be politely but firmly turned away. If I persist in asking why suddenly some records with information or photos are proprietary, I will get as many answers as there are days in a year. At the end of the day, I leave frustrated and feeling insulted.

Then there is my main passion, digital photography.

I have a pocket Nikon and my iPhone. I'm something of a photo enthusiast and I know how all my equipment works. I can turn off the flash and I've even gone to far as to put black electrical tape on the flashes so they won't fire accidentally. I think I'm demonstrating my sincerity at that point and should be cut a bit of slack.

I don't request the use of a tripod. I often visit during the quiet times of the day or slow days in the week so I'll be less of a nuisance for other patrons. I respect the need to not touch an object or get too close to it.

I'm not one of those guys who likes to pose with a work of art and create a selfie. When I'm in a museum, my attention is on the item I came to see. I'm not there to shoot as many photos as possible with myself in them for bragging rights like some of my friends (I sure do hope they don't read this)!

Yet, I find that I'm constantly being treated little better than a potential vandal or criminal as soon as my iPhone or Nikon come out.

Docents and guards have approached me to inform me that some unusual Hellenistic Age or Classical sculpture or mosaic was off limits for personal photography on account of copyright (What?! Copyright?! I had no idea Praxiteles, Phidias and Alexandros of Antioch had recently applied for and received copyright protection at the Patent Office!) and when I ask how a person who's been dead for over 2000 years can still have a copyright, well of course they react negatively since they aren't used to being challenged with an intelligent and forthright question.

Or to put it more bluntly, they hate being called out on abuse of power since they don't technically own anything like a copyright. In other instances, a director will explain that it isn't really copyright but a strong desire to control the usage or image of some artifact. I'm still puzzled over why my low resolution photography which is being done simply for my own personal satisfaction is being construed as disrespectful? Besides, when did my First Amendment right as a photographer suddenly get trumped by a overly-controlling museum policy?

If the museum is a publicly funded entity, I've always concluded that in a strictly technical sense, as a taxpayer I own a tiny share in that museum as much as anyone else. I'm not asking for special privileges or treatment. I just want to be treated with the same level of respect as I extend to the museum and the collections within it as I try to carry out my photography in the least intrusive many possible.

There are many more salient points I could bring up, but that is a lot of it.

Does anyone foresee the inconsistent regulations that a photographer has to deal with becoming better with time?

gwencon said...

Awesome article. With an open policy, visitors will be more organized in taking photos in the museum and avoid visitors to make inappropriate gestures when posting the photos with the name of the museum which can distort its values.

stella said...

Great! I also question why I can't take pictures there.
I like you mention the statement "if it doesn't spread, it's dead."
I humbly ask your permission to put your link in my blog article ya..