To ban or not to ban photography


To ban or not to ban photography

As the Van Gogh Museum reintroduces prohibition, it’s no wonder visitors with cameras are confused

Published online in The Art Newspaper:  By Martin Bailey. Museums, Issue 255, March 2014

The world’s most popular museums have widely differing attitudes towards visitors taking photographs. The current situation is confusing for visitors because of different policies taken by museums, even those in the same city. Although most now permit photography for personal use in their permanent collections, it can lead to “camera-rage”: tension between those looking at and photographing art.
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum reintroduced its ban on personal photography in January because of the friction it caused. Last May, for the first time, it allowed personal photography, since growing numbers of visitors wanted and expected to be able to take photos. However, the museum attracts 1.4 million visitors a year (88% tourists) and its relatively confined space means that it is always crowded.

Permitting photography led to constant tension between those who wanted a clear view for their camera and those who wished to look at the paintings. Many also insisted on photographing their companion or themselves in front of a picture. This led to numerous complaints from other visitors.

A few works hung with the museum’s permanent collection are loans, most of which should not be photographed. When the National Gallery in London lent Sunflowers, 1888, last year, there was a “no photography” symbol on the label. But visitors either failed to see the symbol or chose to ignore it, and gallery staff could do a limited amount to prevent them.

Now the Van Gogh Museum only allows pictures to be taken in areas where there is no art, such as the central atrium.

The rise of digital cameras

Until a decade or so ago, photography was generally prohibited in museums because cameras usually required the use of flash indoors. The development of digital cameras (including those in smartphones) that can produce a good image in low light has created the current confusion. Museums want visitors to enjoy the collections and to share images with friends, but it can be disruptive when large numbers of people are snapping away with their mobile phones and tablets around popular works.

Read the rest of the article at The Art Newspaper

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