Monday, July 2, 2012

No photos, please

Me taking a photo of an antique mirror in a shop window
 Tourists love to take photos, myself included. So many tourists take photos in Venice that it almost seems as though every tourist's photo album should be full of pictures of other tourists taking pictures of them.

We've seen some amazing sights, including stunning works of art, impeccably preserved historical artifacts, and incredible workmanship that I can't show you because photos were not allowed. Some places are sacred sites, and the taking of photos would be an offense. Works of art and craft are the property of artists, and photographing them is tantamount to theft of intellectual property or copyright violation. In other situations, people with cameras can be disruptive, rude and unpleasant, so shop owners or proprietors forbid photos.

A man taking a photo of himself on the Rialto Bridge.
Now, one can argue whether in today's age of cheap, digital cameras, such prohibitions are really warranted. And, indeed, many places that once forbade cameras now permit them - the Musee D'Orsay in Paris was full of photo-snapping art lovers when we were last there. If one really admires a painting and wants to learn more about it, what better way than to have a record of it, both the work itself and a shot of the information plaque?

But even so - when there is a sign saying "no photos" it's only polite to obey. And when it's uncertain, one should ask. "May I take a photo, please?" Most of the time, people say yes, but if they say "No," put the camera away.

Exterior, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Today we toured a famous Venetian church that is home to some truly stunning works of Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance art. the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. I longed to take a photo of Titian's "Pesaro Madonna" - but I didn't - there were many signs posted forbidding cameras. Instead, here's a picture of it from Wikipedia, in the public domain.

Even so, while I stood there looking at it, I noticed there was a man with a camera crouched down by the steps leading to the high altar, snapping away.

Later, we visited a shop where handmade carnival masques were made. There were prominent signs saying "Please do not take photos inside the shop." While we chatted with the owner, two young girls came in, huge cameras around their necks, and while the owner's back was turned, they got off a few shots.

We walked further down the calle, and in another masque shop, we encountered the same girls. This time, the shop's owner sharply rebuked them for taking pictures. the Museo Palazzo Mocenigo, in a tiny passage between two of the stunning rooms with their magnificent painted ceilings, there is a 17th century painting of a small dog, a black-and-white terrier mutt with a crazy toothy grin. I longed to photograph it. There were no guards and no other visitors there, and I could have slipped my camera out of my bag, snapped a shot and no one would have been the wiser.

I didn't do it.

But since then, I have done an internet search for an officially sanctioned image of the dog painting, and I can't find one.

What do you think? What would you have done? Would it have been harmless for me to do it? What do you think of taking photos, of rules against photos, and of people who break those rules?


M. Bouffant said...

I don't get the copyright/intellectual property worry. Am I going to take a (probably crummy) picture of a work & then sell it to someone who otherwise would have bought the/an original from the artist?

I can understand that the masque shop proprietor may not want competitors getting pictures & beating him to market w/ a knock-off, but what's the deal w/ a 17th century painting being so precious, other than the possible damage from constant flashes, in which case a "No Flash Photography" sign seems more appropriate.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

What would you have done?

If I have the camera with me (and I always do), I'm taking pictures.

Anonymous said...

I believe you did the right thing. But then, I am a big, uptight law-abiding chicken, so what do I know?
Loving your posts on Venice.


ilyanna said...

If there's any sort of a gift shop I always try and buy a postcard of whatever it was I loved most. That supports the owner/caretaker, and the postcard is invariably better quality than any picture I might take.

M. Bouffant said...

Good idea. A total nerd (me) would even mail it home from there, so you'd have a stamp & postmark as well. At least while there's still snail mail.

Alexia said...

In most museums/art galleries I have been in, the issue is with fleashes harming the paint/fabric etc. In many places you are allowed to take photos without the flash.
In cathedrals and churches, it might also possibly be about respect...

I'm like you, Aunt Snow - I obey the rules. It's their country, after all. I have found that one is more likely to run up against the 'NO PHOTOS' thing in Italy than in Greece, say, or Spain or Turkey.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Like you, I obey the signs... but still long for the photo. As Ilyanna noted, a postcard is often a good compromise. However, with that portrait of the pup... huge temptation!
And as Alexia and M. Bouffant pointed out, "no flash photography" was the big concern. In these days of digital photography, I have a harder time seeing the sense of some of the law.

When I have photographed inside cathedrals and churches (where allowed), I have tried to stay as unobtrusive as possible, and if a worship service was in progress, I wait until they worshipers are dismissed.

Perhaps the stringent laws are due to the lack of common sense of so many people today?