Friday, August 24, 2007

Get the paparazzis out of here!

Another pesky museum rule that has probably already annoyed you. Why are artworks so camera-shy?
Does photographing in the galleries endanger the artworks? The answer is yes and no.
More and more museums are restricting or forbidding cameras, for mixed reasons having to do mostly with copyright issues and conservation problems.
As you may know, some museum allow pictures-taking as long as you do not bring in a tripod or use your flash.
Which is very sensible: flashes bring in too much light and are damaging for works on paper (including photographs). As for the tripods, see the no umbrella/no backpack rule. Plus, just in case you doubted it, there are a trillion Mona Lisa postcards and posters at the store.

I wouldn't mind the restrictions myself if only the museums were putting all of their databases online, for a reasonable fee (think the iTunes model).
Most of them don't, because believe it or not they don't have the resources to do so (Citizens! pay more taxes! donate to your friendly museums!). Big museums have collections ranging in the 100,000 plus items and usually only one or two photographers on staff. Who have to take pictures of all the incoming objects and exhibitions, so the backlog tends to be enormous. And you do not take pictures of artworks like this. Some have to be taken out of their frames, moved to the studio, have to be carefully manipulated, etc.

The copyright issues are a lot more complicated. For one thing, if you take a pic inside the museum, the copyright belongs to you, so the museum cannot get any profit from its treasure trove of great artifacts. For exhibitions, the lender of the piece may have explicitly forbidden pictures to be taken. In France it also happens that some museums have ceded all the copyrights to some photographic agencies way back (mostly Roger-Viollet and Giraudon) and cannot let you take your own for legal resons. There is also a conspiracy to force you to buy this $60 catalogue. Yes, it's true!
Also in America some museums are scared of Fundamentalist Christians and other prudish online porn-watchers suing them for making some material available online. Like Greek sculpture, or 19th century decadent symbolists. I bet they haven't read Leo Steinberg, these ones!
The censored artworks would look very tame to you and me, as you can see in the pictures I've taken to illustrate this post. We're Frenchy and chic, so no prudish-ery for us! Plus, we've never resisted pictures of magnificent male nudes, even in cold hard marble form.

You see until last year picture-taking was allowed at the Louvre (otherwise known as my second home. My bedroom is hidden in Dutch and Flemish art, not too far from the Adrian Coorte).
Under the leadership of the distinguished marketing director Henri Loyrette a certain number of things that were for time immemorial OK back home were suddenly forbidden and repackaged to make them look more palatable. You know, like when you were a kid and Mommy was trying to hide the spinach under the mashed potatoes for you to eat. Did it work? I didn't think so either. So you cannot take pictures anymore but you can track them in the database. That is, if you speak French and know the name of the artist you are looking for and its French spelling. Say Patenier and not Patinir.
Now the reason this particularly irks me are twofold or is it threefold?.
One, as a former art history instructor, I remember how tiresome and complicated it was to get pictures to teach classes even though I taught at the Ecole du Louvre which is located in the museum. Two, I sometimes work on research projects that requires me to get good details of the artworks, and in the case of sculpture I like to have something else than the frontal view (on black backdrops, eew) that is the norm. In the case of the Praxiteles show at the Louvre, the lovely bronze sculpture I chose to illustrate the post looks even better if you can turn around and look at its dramatic contrapposto.
Same with the Borghese gladiator sculpture I used yesterday. I'm adding more views so you can enjoy the pictures taken by ma pomme in 2005. (If you plan to reuse them, please indicate: copyright, ma pomme 2005 and donate $1 to your neighborhood museum in my name -that is, ma pomme- Thanks!). And blame for the sideways images, its apaprently a common problem when uploading.
Lastly, many artworks reproductions are nowhere to be found and most certainly not available at the store. If you truly, truly like that very small still life by an unknown 17th century Dutch painter, you're screwed.

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