Should Museum Exhibits Be No Flash Zones?

H.1991.20.2

H.1991.20.2

A few weeks ago one of our past workshop participants sent email asking whether her all-volunteer historical association should allow flash photography in the museum and historic house buildings it operates. We advised that the most recent research indicates that flash photography does not pose a real preservation threat. Still, there are various institutional approaches to the issue of photography in exhibitions and reasons for limiting it.

Two NC Department of Cultural Resources museums’ policies diverge on the issue of flash photography. Here is the North Carolina Museum of History’s photography policy: “Still photography of the permanent collection is permitted on condition that the photographs are for personal, noncommercial use.Tripods and video cameras are prohibited without special, advance permissions. Commercial photography is not allowed, except with advance permission.” The North Carolina Museum of Art does not allow flash photography. “Still photography of the permanent collection, taken in existing light, is permitted on condition that the photographs are for personal, noncommercial use.”

These institutions agree on limiting commercial photography because it can infringe on the copyrights of the art or artifact’s creator. Rather than allow each photographer to assume risk, the museums require seeking prior permission.

Other online discussions cite additional reasons to limit photography in exhibit areas. The most popular of these is that visitors taking pictures impede the flow in crowded galleries and can disrupt the museum experience, especially when jarring flashes occur.

Another possible reason to limit photography is the belief that visitors will take photos instead of buying professional reproductions in a gift shop, consequently reducing the museum’s potential revenue. One online comment argued astutely that souvenir shopping and photographing objects in an exhibit are two separate impulses and that museums do not make most of their collection objects available in souvenir form in their shops anyway.

What do you think? Does your institution allow photography or limit it? How does its photography policy affect audience engagement?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on September 10, 2013, in collections access, Exhibitions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The NCC Gallery has been allowing flash photography for a couple of years now. We encourage visitors to take photos (especially popular with our life size Sir Walter Raleigh statue) and share them on Facebook or Twitter or other social media outlets. Once in a while we’ll run across a photo of one of our exhibits online! Over time we hope this will (albeit in a small way) build awareness of our museum with a younger audience.

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