Monday, April 9, 2012

Photography in museums-should it be banned?

Last year I came across a post on an online travel forum which debated the topic of whether or not non-flash photography should be allowed in museums. The original poster was completely against it, stating that individuals who "parked" themselves in front of a particular work of art, waiting for the right moment to take their photo completely ruins her museum experience. While some agreed with her, others defended the opposing side, believing that taking a picture of a work of art allowed them to cherish that piece long after they had returned from their trip. I support the side in favor of allowing non-flash photography in museums. Although there are some works of art that are permanently engrained in my mind, there are others that, without a photograph to examine and admire, I most likely wouldn't remember the little details about, the things the artist worked so hard to incorporate.

I admit, amateur art photographers can be pretty obnoxious at times, usually at world famous museums that are home to some of the most significant works of art in history. I am probably in the minority here, but I have never been enchanted by the Louvre in Paris like some are. On each of my three trips to Paris I have visited it, and while there's no denying its impressive collections, for me it's simply "too much." Although I'm sure there are areas of the Louvre where one can escape the multitudes of visitors (it was a palace before becoming a museum), the reason that most people visit are to see its most famous holdings-Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Johan Vermeer's The Lacemaker-which are almost always mobbed. At these works, it is almost impossible to take a picture  without having another museum goer (if not more) included in it. On my last visit to the Louvre I gave up my attempt to take pictures of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo statue as I was becoming extremely frustrated. Every time the coast was clear to take an obscured picture, someone new ran up next to it to pose with it. I don't think there's anything wrong with an individual wanting to take a picture of a work of art. My problem however, is when people insist on posing along with it. This I feel is where tensions run high for some, since the "posers" are constantly blocking the view of other patrons. When I visited the Musee d'Orsay, by the time I got in after standing in line more than an hour for tickets, I was so exhausted (I ran myself ragged during my visit), I ended up taking dozens of photographs of my favorite paintings  in the museum simply because I didn't have the physical energy to longingly admire each one. I would do that later on from the confines of my hotel room. Six years later, those photographs of some of the Impressionists periods' best paintings are among my favorite souvenirs from that trip.

Let's face it, the wares found inside museum gift shops are expensive and sometimes overpriced-.50 to $1 USD for a 4 x 6 postcard? So for me, the pictures I take of paintings can easily be made into wall prints or posters at a fraction of the cost of a museum gift shop reproduction. While some pictures don't come out, mostly due to the lighting, others are of perfect quality.

On our recent trip to Cleveland, we visited two museums, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Photography without a flash was allowed at the art museum in all of their collections except the areas containing 20th and 21st century works, which the brochure said was due to copyright. Some of my favorite photographs that I took were pieces from the Byzantine period, a time in history I am really not too familiar with. There was no photography allowed at all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which makes sense since all of its holdings would be from the 20th and 21st centuries. This was very disappointed since, while photographing a half-torn piece of paper that contained a couple of lyrics would not have been very memorable, I would loved to have photographed some of the beautiful dresses worn by singers Brenda Lee and Diana Ross.

I think there's nothing wrong with photographing works of art as long as it is done with respect and consideration to your fellow visitors. What are your thoughts on the topic? Do you think that photography should be allowed in museums or should it banned altogether? Do you take photographs of paintings and other works of art when visiting a museum, or do you feel it detracts from the museum experience?

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