Museums and photography

Last week, I read about Thomas Hawk’s run-in (or is that “run-out”?) with SFMOMA, and I thought about several similar experiences I’ve had.

My gut feeling is that he was being targeted for using an SLR. I have often felt targeted when I started carrying an SLR, especially once I started mounting reasonably large zoom lenses with lens hoods. My most notable memory is from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which allows photography in its atriums, but not galleries. (That’s a fair policy, since much of the work exhibited in a museum will be on loan and the museum can’t give permission to photograph it.) After seeing a half-dozen people use point-and-shoot cameras with flashes enabled in an atrium, I pulled out my SLR and was immediately approached by a security guard who told me that the museum did not allow photography. When I pointed to the visitor brochure’s statement about photography, he told me that I could put my camera away or leave. I put away my camera, but I’m not inclined to go back.

Nearly all museums in Europe are much more forgiving, and many seem to encourage photography. The one exception I can think of is the Musée Matisse in Nice, where all of the work is still protected by copyright. When I visited this summer, the receptionist said that the museum didn’t allow photography because “Matisse’s grandchildren don’t want to work.”

The best photo policy I’ve seen at a U.S. museum is at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. In the visitor brochure, the museum allows photography without a flash for non-commercial use. If you want to sell photos, the museum includes an e-mail address and phone number to contact for permissions.

Leave a Reply