Photography in Art Museums

July 2015

The security guard scolds the American woman who was photographing Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in the National Gallery. The woman is aghast. She says she didn’t know. But there was a sign at the only entrance to the room dedicated to Munch … in English … with a picture of a camera with a line through it.

The Munch room is the only part of the museum where photos aren’t allowed. Everywhere else, people can happily snap photos of any painting they want, so long as they don’t use a flash.

People miss something when they don’t take a moment to view a piece of art.There’s an Asian man taking photos of every painting and then of its description. As is a young woman with glasses, snapping pictures with her iPhone. Neither of them spends any time actually looking at the art. That’s what the photos are for.

Times have changed. Art museums have surrendered their stringent rules in the age of the smartphone. They couldn’t stop people from taking photos. Now the “no photo” signs are going away.

I don’t know how I feel about that. I’ve snuck in the occasional picture over the years.

People miss something when they don’t take a moment to view a piece of art. Now there’s going to be someone getting in the way to get a closer shot, as well. And if all people are going to do is look at the photos later, what’s the point of traveling? It would be cheaper to stay home and order the museum’s highlight book.

Photo: Statues at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen


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