web analytics

Museum Photography: Examples from Three Countries (UK, USA, and Russia)

How do museums regulate permissions for museum photography, and is there a conflict between personal photos and official museum merchandise?

Industrial Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (@Julia Shuvalova, 2008)

In the first week of December I went to Birmingham, and one my destinations was the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that houses the works of some leading Pre-Raphaelites. Taught by experience, I asked about museum photography. Yes, I had to fill out the form again, but this time the rules were set out in more detail, although once more there is a clause or two that may potentially be difficult to interpret even for the staff themselves:

1. Any copyrights (including publication rights) created in the photographic materials produced under the conditions stated below are reassigned to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

2. Any photography is for personal reference only. No permission for any reproduction rights of any kind is granted or may be assumed. Permission for reproduction rights should be applied for, in writing, to the Picture Library. Each case will be evaluated independently.

3. Any work, which is protected by the artists’ copyright, may not be photographed without the permission of the copyright holder.

4. Any works on loan, including temporary exhibitions, may not be photographed.

5. Flash photography is permitted unless otherwise specified.

6. The use of professional photographic equipment is prohibited. Tripods and monopods may not be used under any circumstances.

7. Video cameras or camcorders may not be used under any circumstances. Filming is prohibited.

Fair enough, reading these rules may put an intrepid visitor off taking pictures in the gallery altogether. However, the first two points just further reinforce what I have highlighted in the previous post on the question of reproduction. The problem is seemingly not only about a picture’s commercial use, but about the multiplicity of such uses. Naturally, if the photo is included in a book, it will be reproduced as many time as the book. For this, it is essential to apply for a permission to a museum.

Regarding the 3rd point, my feeling is that this needs to be discussed with the copyright holder before their work actually gets to be displayed. This is something that many professional artists’ and photographers’ websites tend to lose the sight of. By creating a website and making it public, they by default agree that this information can be shared. It is the same as with the printed word: if it was printed, you cannot stop people from quoting it. This is not to say that their work can be reproduced for commercial purposes by other people, but this should mean that a blogger may wish to not only write about them and give a link to their website, but also to include an image in the post, to illustrate why it would be good to visit the website at all.

Likewise, when an artist is displaying their work at the museum or gallery where photography is generally permitted, they have to be aware that a visitor can upload a taken photo online. It makes every sense to restrict this, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, the world has grown bigger with the Internet, and this potentially means that artists, especially young, may find it more and more difficult to compete with other artists and to assert themselves in the world. Social Media tools, and particularly photosharing, will facilitate this to an extent.

With loaned works and temporary exhibitions, I feel the galleries would need to spare some resources to clearly display the permission signs in such spaces of the gallery. As more and more often galleries intercept the regular display with a temporary exhibition, it is difficult for a visitor to understand where a photography permission ends and where it resumes again.

Regarding the specialist photography permission, this is a good point and the one that I think can be reinforced to avoid the taken photos being reproduced to a commercial end. This is how the Brooklyn Museum defines their stance on photography in the gallery:

Photography and videography are allowed in the Museum so long as the images are taken using existing light only (no flash) and are for personal, non-commercial use. Photography and videography are often restricted in special exhibition galleries.

Add to this also that many paintings are displayed under the glass, hence the photographic image of a painting in the gallery space can be far from ideal for reproduction.

A different take on photography and videography in the museum comes from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. As you need to purchase tickets to view the collection, you can also purchase a permission to make photos or videos in the museum. The website explains that there are warning pictograms in the halls where it is not permitted to take photos or to use flash. I did use this permission once myself in 2002, and this was great to show the museum to my parents who happened to have never visited the Hermitage.

The question rises, of course: why would I film, and not buy a video cassette or a DVD? Well, we all count our pennies, and on my memory even 6 years ago it was cheaper to pay for a photography pass rather than to buy a DVD set. I have been taking a notice of what people photograph and film, and I have never seen any of them making a complete record of the collection. If any of the readers have been to the Hermitage, they vividly imagine the sheer grandeur of the place: you would not know what to photograph because there is too much to see, and all too splendid! They say it takes 5 hours to quickly run through the entire Hermitage (i.e. only stopping at a few paintings), so imagine the weight of this on your photo- or videocamera. But what the Hermitage achieving with this is very valuable. On the one hand, they allow people to create a personal record of a visit to this art depository, a historic monument, and one of the most beautiful sights in the world altogether. On the other hand, by asking for a small fee for a photography permit they also bring in money to the museum.

More on Photography and Blogs and Social Media

More on Photography in Museum: The Question of Reproduction

Photography in museum: the conflict of copyright and “personal use”. What museums can do to protect their collections.

photography in museums
Visitors taking photos at the John Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (@Julia Shuvalova, 2008)

It looks like more and more art depositories are beginning to ask visitors to fill in a photography in museum permission form. I do think that this is likely to be requested in a smaller gallery rather than in a big one. Imagine the huge queue of tourists at the British Museum, all filling out permission forms…

As I stated before, I do not see any problem with restricting photography in museum at the special exhibitions, and then there is a tricky situation with the works of art by contemporary artists, as not only is there a “regular” sort of copyright which we all acquire by virtue of producing a work of art, but there is also a 70-years copyright restriction. On the other hand, those works of art can often be found online anyway, so the first question is whether the artist and the art depository by restricting the permission actually end up pushing away the benefits of being directly credited in the image?

Another problem is how to define the concept of “reproduction”. Indeed, if I take a photo of a painting (sculpture, photograph by the like of Man Ray, etc), I am effectively “reproducing” it. Yet again, there are so many reproductions of these works of art on the Internet, and services like AllPosters.com not only provide links to a large number of online images, they also produce quality prints. I never ordered any posters from the mentioned site or others, but it would certainly be interesting to leverage the number of prints bought by those who visited, say, the National Gallery shop online or in person, and the number of prints bought through a poster-making website.

I must admit I never looked into the relationship between AllPosters.com and any of the art depositories, whose works they print: perhaps, there is a sale commission agreement, or some such. Whatever is the answer, this is clearly the case of an image being reproduced for commercial purposes. How is this different from uploading a photo to a blog or to Flickr? As far as Flickr goes, this is currently a non-commercial service, so “reproducing” an image there should not be constituted as a commercial move.

Uploading a photo to a blog can be more complicated to an extent, if the publisher uses AdSense. My personal view, however, going off the fact that many of the images are available online via different resources, is that if the publisher intends to earn their income by “reproducing” the works of art on their blog, there is little need for them to visit a museum and twist the brains over photography permission. They can find very many images on the web, or they can scan “reproductions” from a book.

Two things may be kept in mind. First, art depositories need to assume that people who do fill out a photography permission form may be intending to upload photos to the web: this constitutes the “personal use” for them. This intention cannot be denied simply because photosharing services are one of the most powerful communicative tools online at the moment, and it would be a pity to see the depository restricting this. Rather, a depository should have the means to see where people upload photos taken in the depository, and how these are being used. The question of an image credit is usually not disputed by the online community, but there is nothing wrong about reinforcing it.

And the second thing is that an art depository that asks for a photography in museum permission form to be filled in, can in fact include in it a question about how the visitor is planning on using the photo. Better yet, visitors can be asked to apply for a permission online, and if they are an online publisher (i.e. blogger or website owner), the depository will be able to evaluate the resource prior to giving a consent to photography. Needless to say, such requirement would have to be very clearly displayed on the website or in the gallery.

More on Photography and Blogs and Social Media

What Do You Think an Artist Is?

Is pain-inflicting, self-mutilating “art” worthy of such name? Can we not sympathise with another person until we literally wear his shoes and physically experience his sufferings?

Update (29 July 2009):

Almost three years on, this has become one of the most popular posts on Los Cuadernos blog. And in the first half of 2009 I saw one site and one video that presented individuals performing self-mutilating acts for art’s sake. First, a pair of twin brothers exchanged arms: one brother’s arm was cut off from his body and reattached to his twin’s body. Thus one man remained with only one arm, while another ended up with three. And the video below taken from TrendHunter explores artistic self-mutilation further, with ten jaw-dropping examples of what is considered art.

Far from decrying anything you see in the video, I will, however, reiterate the point I made in the original post: why, after all wars and losses, do people still need to “practise” pain and mutilation, as if viewing the images of the dead and disabled people is not enough to understand what pain and death is? Three years on, I think I know the answer.

Humanity is fascinated by Death because, like Love and Pain, this is an eternal secret. It is a mystery. Camus said that suicide is the only true philosophical problem, but since the result of a suicide is death, it means that death itself may be the only true philosophical problem. Philosophy, since its origins, has been preoccupied with making sense of Life and of Man as a living being; but much rarely has it delved into the mystery of Death, and this may be its biggest challenge and hurdle.

It is human therefore that everything morbid fascinates, intrigues, and perplexes us. (Zizek comes to mind: people are forever concerned with what they cannot change). Memento mori. Danse macabre. The theme of Death and the Maiden in art (e.g., Hans Baldung, 1517 (right)). Venus at the Mirror as the parable of the fleeting beauty and deplorable life… the list can be continued, and all it will serve to do is to prove to us how truly interested artists are in what philosophy isn’t so eager to discuss. And in this regard it is probably only normal that there are people who use their own bodies to understand the mystery of pain or the secret of being on the brink of dying. In order to live on, art must be experimental, even if it has to experiment with itself.

Having said so, I’d rather not have this kind of art being performed publicly, let alone covered by the media. With our inclination to build hype around things it would be hard to see the forest for the trees.

Most importantly, I am always somewhat confused when artists, writers in particular, claim that in order to write about something they must know it, experience it first-hand. I’m uttering things, but does that mean that Dostoyevsky would need to kill a couple of old ladies to be able to write Crime and Punishment? And at the same time, speaking of literature, can it not help us gain the life experience that we seek?

It may depend on how we read, of course. Reading is both mental and emotional process. However, what is interesting is that because we most often use words to express ourselves, our entire life is one huge text, and each of us is reading it and making sense of it according to our aptitude and experience. We have to translate this text, either in the language of our experience, or in the foreign language, or in the language of other arts or disciplines.

Can it be therefore that after all the millenia humanity has learnt to do pretty much everything, including the genetic engineering and flying into space, but is still rubbish at such important thing as reading? Reading is understanding. Understanding gives one a key to influence things, to change the world. But what is there at the heart of it? Love, no doubt. For we only care to understand things we care about. And nothing can drive us to care about something as much as Love does. However…

…if we cannot love enough to care to understand, does it not mean that even in our Christian world we have never taken Jesus as an example? Does it not mean that we broke the teaching into citations and took to memorise the words without understanding (sic!) their meaning? It’s been a while since I thought: how odd it is that we are told to love God – but not people. How odd that people love God but distrust their neighbours. Maybe it simply means that people inherently distrust themselves. Maybe it means that they find it easier to trust in the Object that is forever absent and therefore cannot let them down more than it already does, rather than trusting another human being whose money isn’t always where the mouth is. But if Art is born in Love, and the present generation of artists often lacks empathy, does this not explain the rising concerns that contemporary art is devoid of essence?

Original post (2 October, 2006)

Several sayings by Pablo Picasso have already appeared on The LOOK’s front page in the past. I also love this photo of him made by Robert Doisneau. A genuine portrait of the genius.

Another portrait of the genius was made by Jean Dieuzaide, and I’ll leave it for you to guess, whose historic moustache you’re gazing at.

I’ve also found this phrase by Picasso a while ago on the web:

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.

One may say that Picasso’s viewpoint is somewhat outdated, in that people want to live in the world as peaceful as possible, hence art-as-war is no longer interesting. But there are many kinds of war, and not all are fought with tanks and missiles. There are language wars, religious wars, ‘moral’ wars, media wars, and all use art as a type of warfare. Furthermore, as George Orwell has put it, there are four main reasons to write prose, one of which is ‘political purpose‘ – ‘using the word “political” in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certan direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude‘ (Orwell, G., Why I write).

It would be very hard indeed to disagree with either Picasso or Orwell, and there are modern artists who follow in their footsteps. Perhaps, they don’t get involved in politics very much, but they nonetheless admit that their art exists because of people. One such artist is Dave McKean, who put it this way:

My own world is just trying to make sense of the real world. I don’t like the sort of science-fiction art and fantasy art that is just about goblins and fairies and spaceships. I don’t really see the point of that. It’s entertaining and it’s fine, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to be about people, who I have to deal with every day, and that’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in what people think and how they think, and the things that they believe in, and desire, and are frightened of. So I’m interested in that side of life, really. And then I’m trying to sort of look at those things from a different point of view, or from metaphor, or from dreams, or from these other angles, because I think they are just interesting ways of seeing things, you know, that you have to deal with everyday for fresh, and you see them with different eyes, I think. [read full article based on McKean’s interview].
Finally, however, comes this passage from The Wicked and Unfaithful Song of Marcel Duchamp to His Queen by Paul Carroll:


Art? A form
of intimate hygiene for
the ghosts we really are.

This brings to my mind a TV programme made by Channel 4, which explored the anti-art, particularly in the form of inflicting pain on oneself as a means of teaching the audience a lesson of empathy. One of my ‘favourite’ moments on the programme was the couple who drank tea with biscuits, while literally “hanging down” from the ceiling on chains, hooks perceing their skin. The idea was to explore their experience of pain and also to expand people’s understanding of pain through such performances.

Having read the entire 120 Days of Sodome by de Sade, I wasn’t scared or repulsed by what I saw on screen, but it made me think. The question I asked myself was this: why in the world where there are so many wars and where the footage of deaths and casualties is already available on the Internet, is it necessary to appeal to people’s empathy by sticking iron hooks in your chest? Far from telling the artists what not to do for their art’s sake, I’m simply wondering about the purpose of such art. If the knowledge of the two World Wars and many other military conflicts doesn’t automatically make people detest the very idea of an offensive war, if the photos of destroyed houses, orphaned children and open wounds don’t change people’s view of loss and pain, then why would seeing two able-bodied adults hanging on chains drinking tea influence people’s idea of pain, or make people more compassionate? I’d imagine that after watching such ‘performance’ people would lose interest in pain altogether. If it’s endurable, then what’s the problem?

Some people with whom I discussed this previously have pointed out that this practice of piercing and inflicting pain is ritual in some countries and cultures. The problem, though, is that the only instance of it on our continent that springs to my mind was flagellantism that had spread in Europe in the 13-14th c. and was later revived as a sexual practice. There is evidently a difference between the culture of piercing in African or Aboriginous societies and this ‘hygienic’ European movement, and as far as I am concerned, this difference is much bigger than someone may think. This ‘civilized’ pain-inflicting art, given its purposes, is – in my opinion – exactly the kind of ‘personal hygiene’ Carroll had written about. An artist, no matter how politically involved, is above all a human being, and when he lacks empathy and cannot relate to other people’s experience, unless he shares it physically, forces to raise questions as to how worthwhile, creative and useful his art is.

And don’t quote Wilde’s ‘all art is quite useless‘. Unknowingly, in this witticism Wilde precluded Sartre who would say that culture doesn’t save or justify anyone – but that it is the mirror in which humanity sees itself. Considering that the Wildean phrase comes from The Portrait of Dorian Gray, culture or art as the mirror symbolically connects Wilde and Sartre. Perhaps it is good if humanity finally notices that it spends more time destructing and inflicting pain instead of learning to love. But will it finally start doing something about it?

error: Sorry, no copying !!