Saturday, August 09, 2008

Taking photographs at museums

Museums have consistently disallowed photography on their premises by the general public. Some art galleries do too. (Borelli Edwards in Pittsburgh is one of them.) I have found that, for the most part, public institutions welcome inquires for press passes from bloggers. The Carnegie Museum and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will allow bloggers press passes. All of the non-profit galleries downtown allow photography even witout a press pass; I have posted images from SPACE and Future Tenant. But Thomas Hawk, of San Francisco, ran into a very specific problem at SFMOMA --
After purchasing my family membership and visiting the museum today I was forcibly thrown out of the museum by two museum security guards at the direction of the Director of Visitor Relations Simon Blint.

My crime? Taking a photograph from the second floor stairs in the SFMOMA's atrium (an area where the SF MOMA's own website explicitly says photography is allowed). Read the post

Now, even the Carnegie won't allow photographs without a press pass. But if the institution has publicized a policy of opening their facility to photography by the general public, they should make absolutely sure that EVERYONE on staff gets the memo. I don't know what I would have done in Mr. Hawk's situation. But really, the threat of ejecting somebody physically from the facility would have been intimidating.


Der Geis said...

The last time I was at the Carnegie Museum I had no problem taking photographs. (I was in Dinosaur Hall, rather than in the fine arts section. I think they have different standards concerning "art".) They did, however, make a massive stink about my monopod. They said "No tripods" and I pointed out that it was not a tripod, it was a monopod, little different from any cane. One guard said, "no problem," another called the central "authority" and threatened to have me ejected.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a difference. Flash can harm delicate materials and a tripod in the arts section should be monitored so that copyrights are not violated. So, I understand some of the hesitancy. Their policy for allowing bloggers access to press passes is relatively new, though, and very much appreciated.

Balhatain said...

I was discussing this issue with some friends recently. One friend mentioned an interesting viewpoint as to why some museums will not allow photographs. He stated that they often will not allow photographs of older works of art because they want to protect their ability to profit from posters and prints of those specific images. They don't want someone else cashing in on those works. I'm talking about art that no longer has copyright protection.

The art may no longer be protected and in public domain, but the photographs of those works are copyrighted. Thus, they want to prevent people from having their own. In other words, they want to make sure that they have the best images for reproducing the image on posters, cups, and any other item you can think of.

So in his opinion it is not so much about protecting the image as it is about protecting the investment of those images and the revenue earned from having those images on gift shop items. He also mentioned that tripods are often banned for that very reason if photos happens to be allowed because in order to have a good image for a poster you almost have to use a tripod.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point about masterworks in the Public Domain. I took a little minute and found this --

Controlling copyright

Can a museum control reproductions of objects in its collection which are not protected by copyright because they are in the public domain? To reproduce such an object, the user must have access to it, which public domain status does not guarantee, says Lauryn H. Guttenplan, associate general counsel of the Smithsonian Institution.
Read more

I can think of several reasons, beyond the potential for damage to work, that a museum might decline to have images of public domain works widely distributed. Just off the top, quality of reproduction, placement of reproduced works and the strongly-held belief that experiencing the actual piece is far more enriching then viewing a reproduction.