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At Too Many Museums, It’s Check Your Camera at the Door
Posted By David Saxe On June 14, 2010 @ 12:08 am In Legal Matters | 24 Comments
When I walked into the museum in Boca Raton, Fla., the first thing I noticed were the signs warning visitors not to take photographs, and instructing us to check our cameras at the entrance.
I had my Leica and two lenses with me and had no interest in checking them, so I tucked my camera in my bag, bought a ticket and began wandering about the place.
Not Responsible for Checked Items
About an hour into my visit, a security guard approached me.
“Excuse me, sir. Is that a camera in your bag?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“We have a very strict policy about photography equipment — no exceptions,” she said firmly. “You cannot continue unless you go back and check your camera.”
I gave in and walked back to the entrance where the checkroom was. Behind the counter were two signs. The first, of course, reiterated that all camera equipment had to be checked. The second sign, just below it, said “Not responsible for checked items.”
I got my money back and left.
Too Many Lawyers
Unfortunately, too many museums have these kinds of restrictions on photographers. It’s like their boards of directors are made up entirely of retired lawyers.
Right near my home in West Palm Beach is the Norton Museum, which is a nice facility. But when I inquired about their policy regarding cameras, I was told that photographs were only allowed outside in the sculpture garden — not inside the museum.
“You mean flash photography is not allowed, right?” I asked.
“No, all photography,” I was told.
It made no sense to me. I could see how flash might be a problem inside the museum; over the long term, it could negatively affect the paintings and drawings. But to permit photography outside and forbid it entirely inside — where’s the logic in that?
A Popular Target
Photographers are a popular target when it comes to making rules forbidding things. Restricting photographers in museums is particularly ironic; you’re putting the clamps on artists who are admiring the work of other artists.
Could you imagine Van Gogh having to get a permit to paint a drawbridge? How about Henri Cartier-Bresson being forced to check his camera so he could look at his own photographs?
What’s interesting to me is that while so many museums have these restrictions, the greatest art collections in the world do not. The Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Art all permit photography on their premises (although sometimes flash is forbidden).
The photograph above was taken a few years ago in the Louvre. I bought my entry ticket, walked past a sign that said flash photography was not allowed, and I was in. I spent the next few hours photographing the people visiting the place. No one bothered me.
If It’s Good Enough for Rembrandt
A few weeks ago, I visited the National Gallery. At the entrance, a guard welcomed me. He looked into my camera bag for security reasons and then let me through. That was it.
The National Gallery has probably the finest collection of art in the United States. Everywhere I went, there were tourists with their little pocket cameras snapping pictures of their kids, the paintings and anything else that got their attention.
These people were not taking pictures of the work of lesser-known artists, like what appears on the walls in Boca Raton. These rooms were filled with Rembrandts, Van Dycks and Bruegels — the mother lode of art.
And yet, the National Gallery had no restrictions. Even flash was no problem.
Until I walked into one room, where a guard approached me.
In this room, the guard told me, photography was not allowed.
“Why not?” I asked.
He explained that the room contained a visiting exhibit. Because the National Gallery did not own the artwork, they could not allow pictures.
“Lawyers,” I grumbled.
Photo © David Saxe
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