Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Photography in Museums

I was sent this image by a colleague in the UK, questioning whether this is a standard Aussie museum greeting. It's so bad that I thought initially it must be a set up. I hope it is, but next time I am in Parramatta I shall check it out.

It does however raise the ongoing issue of whether or not to allow photography in museums. This is being discussed at present on various professional forums and is the subject of a specialist article in the latest edition of the UK  Museums Journal ( December 2012) The standard response in the past has been a no-no particularly in art galleries, for two basic reasons:

1) that the high lux level of the camera flash significantly increases the rate of fading of artworks and

b) that the process of photographing an object is a disturbance to other visitors.

The reality in 2013 is that almost every visitor carries a camera with them in the form of a mobile phone. Moreover many visitors live in a world where the sharing and commenting on photos is almost as ubiquitous as the exchange of messages.  Museums are also increasingly using the technology of mobiles to allow access to further information, whether through QR codes, NFC ( near field communication) , or visual recognition ( see the Getty's experience of this).  All require the phone camera to be offered up to the object or associated label, so how is a poor gallery attendant going to work out whether an actual photo is being taken.

Added to this , the UK National Gallery has studied the fading effects of flash, and has concluded it is absolutely minimal, needing millions of flash events before any damage can be detected.

On top of this a recent UK Museums Association survey that showed 83% of museum staff believe visitors should be allowed to take photos, as it actively helps engagement, and by the sharing of images through Instagram and Pinterest can be used as part of a marketing strategy.

So it seems the only sensible thing to do is to work out how to maximise the benefit to the museum, and actively encourage it.

Two words of caution however. One is to watch out for copyright issues, particularly when allowing photography of loan items - many museums are advising that such objects cannot be photographed for this reason. The other is to ask visitors to turn their flash function off, so as to limit the disturbance to other visitors.