I am a camera – stills only, please


I’m planning an upcoming trip to an art museum I have never visited before. Naturally, I’m pretty excited, especially since I have heard nothing but praise for this museum, its collection, and its scholarly work. I’m omitting the name of the museum for the moment – stay tuned, as next week or the week after should see my review posted – but something about its website caught my attention.

On the visit planning page, as with most museums, is a mention of their policy on photography. To wit: still photos for non-commercial use are fine, but flash photography and video are not. Another major museum, whose website I visited for comparison, allows video in its lobby but nowhere else. A third museum band video, but allows tripods for still photography with clearance from the admissions desk. All 3 museums allow sketching in their galleries, provided it is with pencil only. I understand completely the ban on flash; the concentrated burst of light from flashes is bad for art, especially works on paper. But then I wondered: why exclude video?

One reason is obvious: video is photography in motion, and a photographer who is concentrating on getting the shot, while at the same time moving about the gallery, is a hazard to navigation, and possibly also a danger to the artwork. One step backward without checking behind, or one slip, and mayhem could result. But, at the same time, moving around a stationary object – the museum I plan on visiting is primarily dedicated to paintings – allows for a changing sense of what the object is. Every artwork is several works at once, depending on whether you are standing still or moving around it. Close up and far away are very different perspectives. In some of the more crowded museums, video photography could be quite the nuisance.

Since I rarely post video here, stills will have to do. I am going to check with the museum to ensure that “private, non-commercial use” (the term most often used in museum policies) applies to this blog. Goodness knows this couldn’t be much less commercial.


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