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Author Topic: Photography in Museums  (Read 4387 times)
vbloomfield
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« on: August 20, 2012, 10:22:20 PM »
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I'd like to take issue with the view expressed by Mark Dubovoy in today's (August 20, 2012) Luminous Landscape, urging that photography in museums be forbidden. In the cases he cites - the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the classics in the Hermitage - I sympathize entirely with his dismay at the swarms of heedless people and their thoughtless photography.

Yet there are situations in which people interacting with art can lead to photographs that have some artistic value: perhaps not grand art like that Dubovoy cites (or that he photographs in his fine landscapes), but art that has some irony, or humor, or psychological tension. Perhaps it can be though of as "street photography" in museums.

I submit three photos that I've taken in museums, of people interacting with art, that I think make reasonable examples.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/Painting%2C%20MIA.jpg
Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota: painting by Doug Argue.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/NYC%20MOMA-4.jpg
Museum of Modern Art, New York: all-black painting by Ad Reinhart.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/20101002Wlaker%20Art%20Center-5.jpg
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis: photograph by Alex Soth

None of these photos was taken with flash, none was in a crowded situation, and I believe that none inconvenienced anyone. Under these circumstances, there's no reason that photography should be forbidden, and much reason that it should be allowed.

Regards,
Victor Bloomfield







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kencameron
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2012, 11:35:34 PM »
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Here is one of mine - a heavily post processed cell phone shot. I spend a lot of time in museums and art galleries and do occasionally take photographs of people looking at paintings, or of people photographing paintings (legitimate subjects for a kind of street photography, as the OP says) and sometimes of paintings (a form of note taking as part of studying them and certainly not a substitute for contemplation - I return time and time again to favourite paintings). Of course I avoid photography when the museum forbids it, as some do, or when it would be intrusive, and I don't use a flash because doing so is almost always both intrusive and ineffective. I think Mark Dubovoy's piece  moves too easily from his perhaps understandable discomfort in various situations to the notion that the causes of his discomfort should be banned. Prima facie, his discomfort is his problem. It often makes me cringe to have to listen to tour guides and other people loudly expressing their uninformed thoughts about works of art but I wouldn't argue that a rule of silence should apply. You can't legislate for good manners. The Mona Lisa is one of a few special cases. The volume of flash photography to which it is subjected might damage it and perhaps it should be banned, but the main problem there is surely the number of people who choose the frustrating experience of catching the occasional glimpse of it between the backs of other people's heads rather than contemplating at their leisure any one of the hundreds of other fine paintings on display in the Louvre.
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Justinr
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« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2012, 04:08:19 AM »
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Moving away from art galleries I find museums one of the most frustrating places to take pictures. The light is all over the place, the exhibits are usually crammed in cheek by jowl and overall you are only going to end up with snapshots. Most museums are protected from 'proper' photography already for these very reasons.
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jamesfrmphilly
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2012, 01:50:59 PM »
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i recently showed my work at a gallery in tribeca in manhattan.
people were walking around taking pictures of my work.
when i objected i was treated as though I was being rude.

why buy photography when you can just take a picture with your camera?

class has vanished from america.
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jamesfrmphilly
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« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2012, 01:56:03 PM »
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I'd like to take issue with the view expressed by Mark Dubovoy in today's (August 20, 2012) Luminous Landscape, urging that photography in museums be forbidden. In the cases he cites - the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the classics in the Hermitage - I sympathize entirely with his dismay at the swarms of heedless people and their thoughtless photography.

Yet there are situations in which people interacting with art can lead to photographs that have some artistic value: perhaps not grand art like that Dubovoy cites (or that he photographs in his fine landscapes), but art that has some irony, or humor, or psychological tension. Perhaps it can be though of as "street photography" in museums.

I submit three photos that I've taken in museums, of people interacting with art, that I think make reasonable examples.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/Painting%2C%20MIA.jpg
Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota: painting by Doug Argue.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/NYC%20MOMA-4.jpg
Museum of Modern Art, New York: all-black painting by Ad Reinhart.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/victor/hereandthere/Images/20101002Wlaker%20Art%20Center-5.jpg
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis: photograph by Alex Soth

None of these photos was taken with flash, none was in a crowded situation, and I believe that none inconvenienced anyone. Under these circumstances, there's no reason that photography should be forbidden, and much reason that it should be allowed.

Regards,
Victor Bloomfield









taking pictures of people in a museum is different than taking pictures of the art itself.
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RFPhotography
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2012, 03:41:59 PM »
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That is true but if Dubovoy's wish comes true that won't be possible either.

Photography really isn't the problem.  People are the problem.  In general people have become more rude over the years.  That's the issue.  People would still be crowding around and pushing to try and see the Mona Lisa or a van Gough (sic).  I was at the Louvre some years ago, around 1999, several years before everyone had a camera in the form of a cell phone, before digital was ubiquitous and there was still a crush of people around the Mona Lisa (the Venus de Milo as well) despite that not everyone was trying to take a picture.

The idea of flash damage from UV is dubious.  Flash in most cameras is treated, often with gold, such that the UV is filtered.  Makes the flash the proper colour temp too, otherwise it would be very blue.  LED flash in cell phones is also not a source of UV. 
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pco98
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« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2012, 08:51:58 AM »
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I sympathise with Mark but tend to agree more with Bob Fisher's statement. I think we are seeing the extreme examples, Sistine Chapel, being another classic but it is really the people themselves rather than the cameras. It is the negative side of a democratising of art, of allowing it to become more accessible to the masses.

A blanket ban would intrude in another benefit I now enjoy when going around museums which do allow cameras. I enjoy admiring and taking in pieces of art and for favourites or unusual ones I will take a picture of the caption as well as the photo. I do buy postcards and occasionally some prints but digital allows for retaining, reviewing and sharing more than I would actually buy. Of course I am responsible photography and know how to take pictures without a flash, and I also take time to enjoy the art itself. That's what makes me decide whether I take a photo or not of it to retain. Has it moved me or drawn me in enough that I want to have a lasting image.

Ross
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vulture
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« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2012, 09:32:40 AM »
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I fully agree with Mark's position and did send the link to his essay to the director-general of our Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Mrs. Dr. Sabine Haag, for consideration.
Thanks, Mark and best wishes for your recovery!

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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2012, 09:46:55 AM »
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As someone who makes their living doing workshops and taking people to 'tourist attractions' and 'religiously significant' and 'culturally significant'  sites I can emphasize with Mark's observations but I cannot agree with his conclusions.

1.  I think it's  presumptuous to judge how others enjoy art, and just plain wrong to dictate it.  I'll admit when the tour buses air brakes signal the release of another bus load of loud and obnoxious Korean and/or Chinese tourists at Angkor Vat or the same at Wat Phra Kaew or any number of such places I cringe and resign myself to waiting out their departure while they shout, spit, and yell while in some cases physically climbing all over the artifacts.  Indeed it's a "learning moment" for my students who by and large know better themselves, but observing the cultural aspects of behaviour might be new to them.  The bottom line is these groups are enjoying themselves and paid the costs and endured the journey to get there just like I did.  Their behaviour while a reflection of their culture, is also allowed by their hosts.  There are better managed sites which demand and monitor acceptable behaviour so it can be done.

2.  Protecting the site is mandatory and no where is this more evident than in South East Asia where many of the sites are centuries old and in different states of decay and/or restoration.    

3.  Photography.  The flash problem is simple, do what most museums have been doing for decades.. restrict flash photography because it is destructive and distracting to others.  If you must restrict photography to create a desired "feeling" then do sponsor frequent and helpful "photography access" to accommodate photographers.  You won't find many cell phone snappers signing up.

4.  The annoyance isn't with the type of camera.  A DSLR or rangefinder camera user can be just as annoying as a iphone snapper.  It's in the numbers, and of course with the behaviour and thoughtfulness of the photographer.

5.  Times are changing.  The first time I visited the Louvre there wasn't a McDonald's.  Now there is. And judging by the throngs of hungry tourists waiting in line for their Big Mac it can't be such a bad thing.  It's just change, and human animals resist and often deplores change.
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