I recently headed to New York City’s Lower East Side to see the “Red Hot” exhibition, a collection of strikingly attractive redheads shot by British photographer (and natural redhead) Thomas Knights.
Among the redheads on the walls, one thing stood out — the exhibition’s unusual photo policy.
Take a look at the image below, one which I was encouraged to take:
In the hundreds of galleries and museums I’ve visited to around the world, I’ve never seen a photo policy quite like it. But why is that?
Surely in the age of selfies and social media, there’s no better way to promote a venue than by encouraging people to share their experiences. “The Daily Show” live taping is another venue which seems to have gotten the message. Rather than banning cameras as they once did, they encourage the audience to take selfies before the show.
But hundreds of galleries and museums around the world still ban photography inside the buildings. Eagle-eyed and sharp-tongued attendants enforce this policy.
It’s possible these galleries fear people won’t visit if they can see the images online, or that photos will harm the sales of postcards and souvenirs. Or they might think photography will disturb other visitors.
Surely each of these reasons is a little outmoded, especially given the cries of “No Photo!” from attendants is invariably more disturbing than the silent tap of a camera-phone. And if galleries are leaning too heavily on their often over-priced store sales, then maybe they need to examine their business models rather than turn themselves into the photo police.
To me, the photo bans reek of cultural snobbery and outdated thinking. I don’t want to view a gallery through the lens of a camera or the screen of an iPhone — but why should I care what others are doing? And if I want a photo to remember my visit, who exactly am I harming?
Some galleries with historic art claim the restrictions are about protecting ageing paint from flashing bulbs, but that’s an argument against flash, not photography altogether. In any case, the truth of the claim is apparently a point of contention among curators.
For those who do find photography too distracting, Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of the British Arts Council, suggested an hour each day when photos are prohibited. It sounds reasonable, and he’s otherwise completely in favour of photography.
Nina Simon, director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, told Art News,”You are fighting an uphill battle if you restrict … Even in the most locked-down spaces, people will still take pictures and you’ll still find a million of these images online. So why not support it in an open way that’s constructive and embraces the public?”
Alisa Martin, senior manager of visitor services at the Brooklyn Museum, told Art News that enforcing the policies was a waste of resources. “Guards are spending so much time focusing on someone holding a device that they might not see the person next to them touching the art,” she said.
As Thomas Knights and his extraordinarily successful “Red Hot” global PR campaign has shown, there’s far more to be gained from users sharing their images than museums and galleries restricting them.
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