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janbb's avatar

Should people be allowed to take photographs in museums?

Asked by janbb (56331points) June 11th, 2011

I always thought picture taking was prohibited in museums. I just spent a few days in DC going around museums and camera rudeness was rampant. People taking pictures of each other next to paintings, someone talking loudly about why her camera didn’t work, one guy monopolizing a painting by taking up close pictures of every face in it. Two questions: is it just another form of rudeness that could be allowed with some etiquette rules? And – does the need for the photo taking take away from the direct and quiet ability to experience the art? I know it interfered with my experience but am I just being an old crank?

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22 Answers

linguaphile's avatar

Some museums do severely prohibit photo taking in certain areas because of the light damage to delicate objects, but I can’t imagine how the cost of security would escalate if they had to monitor and detain all photographers…
In regards to etiquette, I agree—photograph taking can become really rude. I was taught museum etiquette when I was young- don’t touch, don’t jostle people, be aware of your noise level… looks like a lot of museum-goers today need to hear from my mama on this one!

mazingerz88's avatar

Tsk, if I knew you will be there I could have come and shooed away those pesky camera nuts for you! Lol. I’m 20 minutes away from DC. I do want to enjoy looking at art without distractions so I go when it’s not heavy tourist season. Museums allow cameras to get more people in which is its primary objective I think. Should they tweak their rules a bit, like set specific time periods in which cameras maybe used? I could go with that since I don’t mind shooting pictures or video myself.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Different types of people go to the Hirschorn or the Guggenheim than go to the national museums in Washington DC. For many, the DC museums are their first exposure to a museum and the national treasures. There is a certain amount of “exuberance” for the experience than what you normally find among patrons who are there for the cerebral experience.

janbb's avatar

The one that was the most annoying to me was the Phillips Collection was is an intimate space. I could more understand it at museums like the Indian Musuem for the reasons you state @BarnacleBill.

Coloma's avatar

I was cautioned to put my camera away at an asian art exhibit in the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan last year. The guards were friendly but stern.

Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal, but…perhaps for security reasons, layout of display cases ( this was mostly very precious sculpture, vases, jade carvings ) etc.

I did get some nice photos of some beautiful pieces before I was warned.

I also did not defiantly rebel against any posted forbiddings, there were none.

The_Idler's avatar

I think flashes should always be prohibited, because they are so distracting.

Otherwise I don’t mind, and I’ve definitely more than once been slightly annoyed that I couldn’t take pictures. But, in the end, I don’t think people should go to museums to take pictures. I think it’s a pity there are this many tourists that just seem so obsessed with taking tons of pictures, that they’re not even paying attention to what they’re seeing! I wouldn’t like to see that in a museum/gallery/exhibition, because the whole point is to experience and appreciate the pieces.

I am thinking mainly along the lines of art here though, I think in other types of museum, photography is fair game, but still no flashes please.

marinelife's avatar

I think that if picture taking is allowed, then it’s allowed.

People can be rude without cameras.

Rudeness is another thing. It exists.

Sorry your experience was impeded.

janbb's avatar

@The_Idler I agree with your sentiments exactly.

The_Idler's avatar

It’s a pity to just have loads of vague memories about cool stuff I saw in museums though, I wish I could have taken pictures, as I’d have looked up the artists later, or shown them to my artist friends.

I’m thinking especially of when I was in Asia, as there is practically zero chance of me remembering 10 or so Chinese names, to look up later.

Because I really struggle with Chinese pronunciation, I find it difficult to remember the names of things. I even struggle with people I’ve known for ages, I just remember the consonants and consistently get all the vowel sounds wrong =P

filmfann's avatar

Flash photography can not only be distracting, but can damage and fade the paintings and artwork.
Many of the most precious artworks are now behind a reflective glass, to try and preserve them.
I wouldn’t have a problem with non-flash photography, tho.

chyna's avatar

I think it’s a pity there are this many tourists that just seem so obsessed with taking tons of pictures, that they’re not even paying attention to what they’re seeing! @The_Idler Great answer.

Hacksawhawk's avatar

Flashes should indeed be prohibited, yet a lot of museums I’ve been to prohibit all kinds of taking pictures. I still use a black and white film camera so I don’t see how that could cause damage. On top of that I don’t even take a lot of pictures in museums, like @The_Idler pointed out, what’s the point of taking pictures of something that already pictures something else?
Only once I decided to get out my camera in a museum. There was this small statuette which looked really weird from up close, so I took a picture. It wasn’t the same reproduction the eye could capture, I tried to make my own ‘piece of art’ with it, so it wasn’t merely a picture of another picture.

Now to answer the question about rudeness: it’s indeed terrible if people taking pictures like you described actually act like that in museums. But – this may sound rude as well – I think that such people like you described act rude and annoying like that all the time.
When I took that picture in the museum, I passed the statuette five times because every time there were people standing near. I waited to be completely alone in the room… But to be completely honest, I didn’t wait because I didn’t want to bother anyone; I waited because I’m a rather shy person, and I didn’t want to do weird things with my camera in front of all those people, scared to draw any attention to me.

It’s a shame that non-rude people get restricted because of the people who act annoying in museums, even though such people are annoying all the time. Luckily it hasn’t come so far yet that we’re being restricted on other areas as well because of rude people! (Probably we are, but I couldn’t come up with an example)

aprilsimnel's avatar

I don’t see the point of photographing the art at a museum. Not even the best SLR compares to actually paying attention to the work before you. So many subtleties are missed in a photo.

More than people taking photos, which I wish no one would do; it’s removing yourself further from the works around you, IMO, what bothers me is that there’s such a “celebrity” component to museum exhibits today, necessitated by the fact that they draw the most paying visitors.

The Met’s got that McQueen exhibit, which has been mobbed, and at the Cooper-Hewitt, people are going in droves to see the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry exhibit, because Liz Taylor’s, Princess Grace’s and the Duchess of Windsor’s baubles are on view. :/

I realize that what people value changes, so I really can’t say anything. While McQueen’s dresses are just as artful as a Rembrandt, to be sure, it shocked me to see people passing those paintings without even a glance to stand in line for the McQueen exhibit.

mrrich724's avatar

What a great perspective. I always just thought it was the institution being selfish and not allowing photos so they can charge people for their prints! Learn something new every day…

IzzyAndHerBeans's avatar

Unfortunately, people can be sticklers for very unnecessary reasons. People will always make their rules and it will never work in your favor.
I do believe the general public should be allowed to take pictures in museums, but no one asked me my opinion when this rule was to be abided by.

dabbler's avatar

In the NYC museums photography is often permitted w/o flash. But it’s almost always prohibited in special exhibits for at least two reasons:
—- it’s going to be crowded already, keep ‘em movin’, eliminate camera-in-face experience
—- copyrights/catalogue sales

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Oh no! People taking pictures AND talking loudly in a museum? Damn them to hell…please relax, etiquette is made up and not set in stone. What you think is rude…well, others do not. I feel people should be able to take pictures anywhere, unless the camera ruins the pieces in the museum, there is nothing wrong.

janbb's avatar

But, but, but – it interfered with my enjoyment @Simone_De_Beauvoir ! :-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb But a millions rules would interfere with mine.

dabbler's avatar

We just need More Art so there’s plenty to look at without a crowd.

Get out there people !

No I’m not talking about graffiti.

Bellatrix's avatar

It depends on why they are being prohibited. Can flash photography cause damage to certain things? I don’t really know? It if can, then it is okay to prohibit at that time.

I do get though the annoyance factor too. I went to a few concerts in the last few years where people were taking photos around me with their phones. One was a Sting concert where he was playing 16th century songs on a lute. The music was quiet and beautiful and not enhanced at all by the whirring of the camera owned by the rude woman and her friend behind me. Every few minutes whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… click. I wanted to take her phone and ram it where the sun does not shine.

So, yes @janbb there are times when photography should be banned or perhaps we should just ban people with no manners or consideration for other people.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, absolutely.

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