We’ve all been there. You’re standing in front of a mesmerizing object and are overcome with the urge to take a photo. You reach for your phone on instinct and then a guard appears out of no where and tells you NO PHOTOGRAPHY.
As Special Projects Writer in our PR department, I recently got to help revise our policy regarding photography in the galleries. Museums across the globe are thinking about this or have put the issue to rest. This is because museums are now being experienced, like most things in this world, through the lens of a Smartphone.
When we work hard to promote the museum through social media, it seems counter-intuitive to prohibit other people from doing the same thing. So, like many museums, we now encourage those who come to PEM to use their cameras and various smart devices in the galleries to interact with artworks and to “curate” and share their PEM experience.
Of course, it isn’t that easy. We still have to worry about loaned objects and the photography policies of lender institutions. But, generally, we’ve made things easier now and the job of our guards easier, so that they may protect artwork instead of attempting to enforce the impossible, which begins by being able to determine whether someone is secretly snapping a digital, silent Iphone shutter.
This prevents confusing situations like during the opening of an exhibition dedicated to punk fashion when I found myself standing in crowded galleries with guards constantly telling people NO PHOTOS, in an exhibition dedicated to sneering rebellious youth culture. It was the very definition of irony.
According to the recent story Why Can’t We Take Pictures in Art Museums? from Art News, more and more museums are opening up every day to allowing photography in some or all of their permanent-collection spaces. The story names The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Getty Museum. Museums are also asking lenders for permission to allow photos of traveling exhibitions when the pictures are not intended for commercial use.
Art News writer Carolina Miranda says:
“As a culture, we increasingly communicate in images. Twenty years ago, a museum-goer might have discussed an interesting work of art with friends over dinner. Today, that person is more likely to take a picture of it and upload it to Facebook.”
Coincidentally, today the transcribed Fabergé Revealed comment book appeared in my in-box. Among all the comments — from jewelers, people of Russian origin, those praising the beauty and workmanship of Carl Fabergé and sharing stories of traveling through Russia — this one from Jon stuck out:
“Thanks for the opportunity to take photos!”
Next time you’re at PEM, keep your smartphone handy…
One oddity must mention: everyone was taking pictures with their phones and some even had large cameras, loaded with good lenses. Every now and then, a guard would holler out “no photos.” No one paid much mind.
I do wonder why the Guggenheim — or, if it’s Turrell, why Turrell — would saddle the show with that restriction.
Update, 8/22: Dobryzynski’s controversial New York Times opinion piece on how museums are vying to create experiences has generated a bunch of responses, including this one against photography in museums:
The short answer to the question posed to Times readers about “how we experience art museums” (letters, Aug. 17) is through a tacky, two-dimensional photo taken by a tacky, tiny hand-held camera or cellphone.
That, alas, is how an increasing number of museumgoers seem to absorb the art experience these days.
Museum authorities, and security guards, might go back to the old days of “no photos,” even ones without flashbulbs, and allow viewers the pleasures of the three-dimensional world of great art.
A. E. SANTANIELLO
New York, Aug. 17, 2013
Update, 9/18: The Salem News picked up the story on our amended photography policy. Chief Marketing Officer Jay Finney was quoted:
“They’re going to take the picture one way or another and we would just like to remove the tension of being approached and asked not to do it. To ask (patrons) to leave their digital lives at the door … seems kind of archaic. Sharing images and what people are experiencing is a great thing for us. … The more people we can touch with our collection, in whatever form, the better.”
Update, 10/22: Deborah Solomon, art critic at WNYC, writes an opinion piece for New York Times, praising certain museums for loosening up on their photo policy. She also points out arguments with security at major museums in New York this fall over their policy of no photography and explains how difficult it is to enforce. She ends the piece:
“When we photograph, e-mail, tweet and Instagram paintings, we capitalize on technological innovation to expand familiarity with an ancient form. So, too, we increase the visual literacy of this country. Much can be gained. Nothing can be lost. A photograph of a painting can no more destroy a masterpiece than it can create one.”