Sunday, 8 June 2008

Strictly No Photography!

Does anybody know what the story is with banning photography from historical objects and museums?

Until recently I’d always just accepted it without thinking about it. Then it started to bother me. There were quite a few places I’d like to have written about and shown on this blog, but photography was banned, and word-only articles just aren't the same. Unless you're Paul Theroux or Simon Winchester. And I'm not.

I wonder if it could be for security reasons? Thieves could use photos of interiors to work out how to break in for example. Or perhaps the administrators have the idea that if everyone sees photos of what they’re displaying, nobody will ever come and see the original?

Neither of those reasons really stack up to inspection though, do they? International art thieves are likely to have the cash to shell out for miniature hidden cameras and if nobody goes to places they’ve seen in photos, who are all those people at the Eiffel tower and the Sydney Opera House?

On the other hand, I completely understand the banning of flash photography around light-sensitive frescoes and canvasses, such as in the Sistine chapel. And in places where the only option is a guided tour, fifteen people scratching around with cameras and all wanting to take the same photo from the best angle would take forever (some of those tours drag on a bit as it is). I have no beef with stashing my camera in either of those situations.

But what’s the deal with places like the castle at Kuněticka Hora? It’s 50Kč to get in, you walk through at your own pace, there’s nothing valuable enough for art-thieves to bother about, (and it’s a castle so should be fairly secure). But photography is banned. Well, not actually banned. They charge you 100Kč to take photos and 200Kč to use a video camera. So in this case I guess it’s a clear example of market economics at work. If you have something people want and they’re willing to pay you for it, why not put a price on it?

What about the places that don’t offer that paid option though? Like the museum of wooden nativity scenes at Třebechovice pod Orebem. The security, and 'people won’t come if they see photos' reasons don’t make sense, so the only explanation I can come up with is that they simply don’t want to. The same way some restaurants don’t want to serve hamburgers and some accommodation providers choose not to rent rooms by the hour. If that's truly the case, then fair enough, but I don't believe it is.

Advertising is not cheap these days (if it has ever been) and in the age of digital photography, camera phones and websites like facebook, flickr and igougo, you’d think any tourist attraction would want as many people as possible getting the word out about them by talking, writing and sharing pictures. Wouldn’t you?

If I could have taken photos everywhere I wanted, I’d be writing right now about the beautiful interiors of the Nové Město nad Metuji chateau and why you should go and see them if you’re in the area. I can’t do them justice just with words. Maybe the words 'Dušan Jurkovič'. But then if you’ve not seen pictures of Mr Jurkovič's work, his name is not likely to get you too excited, is it? See my point?

Word of mouth is inexpensive and highly effective advertising and I just don’t understand why anyone would cut it off at its source.

So why do tourist attractions ban photography of their greatest assets? Is it like this right across the world or is it at its worst within the sphere of influence of Czech bureaucracy?

Any theories?


sansIcarus said...

I think there are two cases where photography should be banned at tourist attractions.

You've mentioned the first, when the use of flash can damage the sensitive materials used in museum or gallery pieces. But most museums I've been to worldwide don't ban photography completely, they just ban flash photography.

The other occassion is when we're talking about a religious building, - temple, church, shrine etc - which often double as a museum/gallery. In this case, when people are actually using the building as a place of worship, I think it's perfectly reasonable to ban photography. Buy a postcard.

Otherwise, like you, I don't see the point. The extra price in the Czech Republic annoyed me too, Captain Oddsocks, and the only reason I can see for it is greed.

Captain Oddsocks said...

That's a good point about buildings used for religious purposes. It would be nice to think that people with cameras could be relied on to use common sense, but I think we all know how that would turn out.

Cemeteries are another case. I've never seen photography banned in one. But the difference between photographing the grave of a three year old who died last week while a sad-looking couple walk towards you, and snapping a shot of Jim Morrison's grave is (should be)obvious to most people.

Greed is a strong word, but I guess that's what you call it if you demand a high price for something that's often (and arguably should always be) free.

'Shortsightedness' and 'stupidity' seem, for me, like better words to describe the practice. Unless you feel like your castle or museum has enough visitors already and you don't want to encourage more. (Putting up the 'closed' sign would also be effective if this were the case).

The photography fees remind me a bit of Prague's Golden Lane and its admission gates. Until recently you could walk along the lane just like any other. But it's a pretty street and somebody decided there was money to be made by fencing it off and charging (quite a bit if I remember rightly-anybody know?) for admission.

Now that's Greed. Imagine blocking off Fifth Avenue or the Champs d'Elysees and charging tourists to get in.

sansIcarus said...

In terms for admission fees for places, there is sometimes a case to be made for charging fees and at the same time limiting the number of people who are in a place at a particular time.

I'm thinking of exhibitions at Art Galleries in the UK for example, where you had entry and exit times on your ticket, to ensure that a large amount of people could see the exhibition while at the same time ensuring that there weren't to many people in the one place at the one time.

Charlie said...

Hi Oddsocks,

My question is, how do they enforce the photography rule? Is it possible to sneak a camera in to take photos stealthily? I know we all want to respect the rules of famous sites so that we don't spoil it for everyone, but charging for photos is a bit absurd, save for the points that you and Icarus have already made.


Captain Oddsocks said...

Charlie, I don't really know. I know some places are under camera surveillance and I'm sure some of those attendants could give you a nasty talking to if they caught you.

I've never really tried it. If those are their rules then I follow them. I just think it would be better for all parties if the rules were different; if people were allowed to photograph whatever they wished, within reason (religious sites, etc).

You mentioned not spoiling it for everyone though, and that's part of what I don't understand.

How does seeing a photo of the Eiffel tower or the Pyramids or the interior of the castle at Kuneticka Hora 'spoil it' for people?

sansIcarus said...

Charlie, it's definitely possible to take sneaky photos when you're not supposed to, check out my blog for one I snapped recently in Shanghai.

In terms of preservation, there are rules and then there are rules. Not climbing like monkeys all over the temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, obviously helps preserve the structures for future generations. However, photography without flash does no damage whatsoever. As you say Oddsocks, it often generates word-of-mouth advertising and subsequent revenue. It's a rule I'm quite willing to break.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Nice work Icarus!
A ancient fertility statue with a moving penis that indicates the lady of the house's readiness to make the coitus.
I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd go to see that. Now that they know about it.