Tag Archives: Photography

Can the Folger Library Figure Out Its Schizophrenic Photo Policy?

Photo booth at the exhibit that prohibits photography at the Folger Library.

Photo booth at the exhibit that prohibits photography at the Folger Library.

The Folger Library in Washington, DC is one of my favorite places because it’s about books and Elizabethan England, two things that fascinate me.  As an historian, books are not an unusual passion but as an American historian, I’m interested in the Elizabethan period because of the comparisons to our Colonial era.  So every time the Folger mounts an exhibit in their gallery, I go no matter the topic and want to document what I’ve seen and learned through photos (and share them with you!).  And yet, while copyright protects none of the material on exhibit, the guards frequently stop me from taking photos and one time I even had to prove I deleted the images from my camera.  The latest exhibit on Shakespeare was photo-prohibited because it was on loan, but again, none of the materials were protected by copyright (all pre-dated 1700). Ironically, at the entrance to the exhibit is a special booth where visitors were asked to share videos or photos of themselves talking about Shakespeare on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Huh? To thine own selfie be true, as long as it doesn’t include any actual historic objects on exhibit.

IMG_0499That’s such a contrast to other museums in DC which encourage photography.  The “Wonder” exhibit at the Renwick Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, is filled with contemporary art, which is typically tied up in a particularly rabid form of copyright protection, encourages photography with signs mounted in nearly every gallery. Somehow they’ve figured out how to allow photography by the public without jeopardizing their collections, reputation, or loan agreements.

Museums and libraries have to figure out how to embrace photography.*  While overall attendance has dropped for the past thirty years, interest in photography has grown by leaps in bounds.**  Indeed, it’s the only cultural or artistic activity that’s growing in the US and by prohibiting it unconditionally, museums and libraries are only further distancing themselves from the rest of America.

*The Rauschenberg Foundation recently developed a radical but thoughtful photography policy, which is described in the New York Times.

**National Endowment for the Arts, “Survey of Public Participation in the Arts,” 2012.

 

National Archives Should Allow Photography in Exhibits IMHO

No photography allowed in the exhibits at the National Archives?

No photography allowed in the exhibits at the National Archives?

Last weekend I went to see “Spirited Republic,” a temporary exhibit at the National Archives about the history of alcohol in the United States.  I’m interested in the history of food and knew the Archives would dig up some interesting materials. It was a worthwhile visit but ugh, right at the entrance is a sign declaring “no photography.”  This isn’t unusual for temporary exhibits because they may contain materials that are protected by copyright or have objects on loan.  In this exhibit, however, everything was drawn from the collections of the Archives or had fallen out of copyright.  If I went around the building to the Research Room, I could retrieve any of the items on display and make photographs without question.  Secondly, most of the items are historic governmental or administrative documents, which don’t encourage selfies or other distractions.  Photographs would most likely be taken by people who were really interested in the subject and wanted an image for reference.  If they’re worried about light damage, people can be warned not to take flash photos (and studies by conservators show that flash photography has to reach excessive levels to cause significant damage, so this is usually an unfounded concern).  If they’re worried about security, everyone has already been screened in the usual DC way and guards are posted throughout the exhibit.  Finally, photography is one of the only areas of creative activity that’s growing in the US (bucking the declines in sewing, painting, pottery, or music according to studies by the National Endowment for the Arts) and the Archives has a rich trove of content for inspiration (and it helps publicize their exhibits and collections). The “no photography” makes absolutely no sense at the National Archives.  Instead, the National Archives should assume that  photography will be allowed unless there are specific and legitimate reasons not to do so.  Just follow the same rules as in your Research Rooms.

Prohibitions on photography isn’t the only stumbling block to public access and historical interpretation at the National Archives–I’m sensing a growing use of Continue reading