Monday, January 11, 2010

Pictures in museums

This summer while visiting Paris's noted Musee d'Orsay, home of one of the greatest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world, I was shocked to see so many patrons taking photographs of the artwork.

It was clearly OK with the museum - the guards were standing in full view and said nothing.

It actually struck me as kind of funny. I began taking photos of the photographers.

Of course, I succumbed to the practice myself, taking photos of pieces I wanted to remember. Not so much as a picture, but as a record.

Like this painting by Fantin-Latour of roses.

But it was the first time I think I've ever been in a serious art museum where people took photographs of the artwork.

Most museums prohibit cameras in the gallery - for reasons that include copyright infringement, art conservation (in the case of flash photos) and good manners. I don't have any desire to take photos in museums, because I always figure the museum will have postcards on sale that would be of better quality than my photos.

Unlike the Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre in Paris prohibits photography in the galleries.

Recently we went to the opening of an exhibition at a museum here in Los Angeles. It was the members' opening - there was a lecture, and there was a bar and catered food.

While I enjoy these kinds of events, they're more like parties and less like going to a museum, for me. I find it difficult to concentrate on the actual exhibitions. As we wandered through the gallery we encountered, in short order, a colleague, a museum staffer we knew and liked, a donor we wanted to thank, the curator of an earlier exhibition at this museum, a local radio art critic, and our neighbor from down the street.

Everyone seems more interested in socializing than the artwork. Plus, it was so crowded you felt as though you were blocking traffic if you stopped a moment to contemplate a piece.

As we stood there, I saw a woman across the room pull a digital camera from her bag and snap a few photos. I was surprised. Was she taking pictures of the artwork? Or was she taking photos of her friends, or the scene?

What do you think - should it be OK to take pictures of art in museums? Is it different depending on what kind of art it is?


Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

I find it rare when they let you take pictures in any gallery or museum. I guess I don't have a problem with it as long as you aren't causing a problem for the other patrons. It isn't as if most people could go home and duplicate the image they took!


mo.stoneskin said...

With a bit of luck somebody might have taken a photo of you. It would have been a bit like the "Infinite Cat Project".

jadedj said...

Being an ex-museum curator, I can say there are legitimate reasons for no photos in some cases. Particularly photos taken with cameras that use flash attachments. It is quite harmful in abundance to say, works on paper. There is, of course, also the issue of copyright.

It's not a blanket, unreasoning by the museums, it is one of conservation as much as anything.

JCK said...

Unless you are with the press, I say no. And WHY? Isn't the point to take in the art work with your eyes? Puzzling to me. This behavior.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I would like to take pictures of people taking pictures of art in the gallery!

Just because. Also, I like taking pictures.

Gilly said...

I think its maybe "I was there! And to prove it, I took a photo". Maybe we can't validate our experiences unless we take a photo of where we were.

It seems pointless to me, as you say, you can buy poscards of exhibits you particularly liked (I have a big collection!) which are far better than any I can take.

I suppose if you are the only person in a gallery then maybe, if the Museum allows it, but if there are others there it gets intrusive. I want to stand back and really look at something, I don't want cameras getting in my way!

Just my two penn'orth!

cactus petunia said...

For me a museum is one of just a few places I can go and really focus on what I'm seeing and experiencing. I try to let it inspire me without having to record it for posterity!

180|360 said...

I've thought this very same thing! For some reason it feels a bit disrespectful, but I don't know why. Granted, I took photos of some paintings/scultpture when we were in Rome this year, so I guess I'm a big hypocrite. But I do agree with Cactus Petunia, I prefer to just take it in without the use of a camera.

Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

We also took photos in Musee d'Orsay - but, LOL, we were spoken to quite sternly in the Lourve once and learned our lesson! LOL

Carmi said...

Although I've long been one to push the bounds of where we should be allowed to take photos - witness my adventures in grocery stores and airports - I'm perfectly comfortable when whoever owns or controls a space chooses to control such behavior. Although these spaces are open to the public, they are not, in and of themselves, public spaces, and the owners/managers have final say over what goes on there. I'm cool with that.

Even in a public space, like an open road, I feel the need to be careful. Because you never know...

Still, I'm tickled with your decision to shoot the shooters, as it adds a dimension to the museum experience that few would consider recording.

kcinnova said...

I happen to love the picture of the painting of the roses. The inclusion of the frame adds to your photograph. I took a few photos in the Musee d'Orsay, although few turned out the way I had hoped. My favorite pictures (taken by me) were from the Rodin museum. I have also purchased a number of postcards of pieces of art that I could not "capture" via my camera. Like you, it was not about the picture but about the record.
I guess that without using a flash, I don't see much to worry about with people taking pictures in museums, as long as that is allowed. Since I do not have a magnificent camera, if I truly desire a photograph of a certain piece of art, I will purchase it in the gift shop. I have a thick "coffee table book" that is a retrospective on Monet. Perhaps I will sit and thumb through it this evening...

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