Monday, 28 October 2013

Please define "danger"

Musée d' Orsay (Photo taken from Louvre pour Tous)
Last week's debate on photography in museums, organized by Acesso Cultura and ICOM Portugal, did not fullfil my expectations. And I consider this to by partly my own fault. I took my role as convenor to be mainly one of a regulator. Having shared my own positions on this subject publicly – in this blog, in the blog Mouseion, in the portuguese newspaper Público and also in the portal Louvre pour Tous - I thought that this should be the moment to give the opportunity to our guest speakers and to our colleagues in the audience to exchange views, clarify ideas, share their vision for museums in the 21st century. Because the current context of discussing photography in museums is that of discussing museums' relationship with people in the 21st century.

The Metropolitan Museum campain "It's Time we Met" used photos taken by visitors in the museum.
The debate took a different turn, concentrating mainly on copyright issues and the commercial interests and pressures behind the EU directive for Free Access to Public Sector Information. Very little was asked or said about visitor-photographers and how current portuguese legislation limits (or not) their contribution in promoting museums. There were some concrete questions regarding this issue – such as “What is meant ‘promotion’ in this recent regulation (here) and do visitors who take and share photos in the social media are actually criminals?”; or “Isn’t current legislation incompatible with the fact that two national museums and two national palaces are now on Google Art Project?” – but they were left unanswered. The lack of direct answer might be an indicator itself of an incapacity or unwillingness to consider these fundamental points, but, as a convenor, I should have insisted for a clear answer - that was the purpose of the debate, after all - but I thought I would engage in a personal dialogue with the speakers, so I didn't (mea culpa).

Images widely available on the internet. Authors unknown or... not easy to find.
Towards the closing of the debate, another very relevant question came up: can the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage actually control what people do with their photos and is this the actual purpose of the new regulation? What is today the society museums are supposed to serve? At this point, we were informed that it is very difficult to control and that the regulation has mainly got a dissuasive purpose.

Posters made by Musée Saint-Raymond, Musée des Antiques de Toulouse.
So, once again, visitors, people, ended up not being the focus of our discussion. Objects were. In line with this, another interesting moment in the debate was a question regarding the manipulation of images of works of art – like the image used for the promotion of the debate. Opinions differed: from seeing absolutely no harm in this kind of creative use of works of art, as masterpieces have got their one life; to identifying a danger in making available good quality images – like Rijksmuseum and other museums around the world are doing at the moment – highlighting the responsibility of museum professionals to safeguard and protect.

I enjoy museums which make us feel welcome, free, inspired, part of. I appreciate museums which have got a good sense of humour and are not afraid to show it. I admire museums which are not cut off from what´s going on around them in society. I respect museums wishing to connect with the outside world, to discuss and not to impose. I see no danger in this, I see no lack of respect; I simply see relevance and a sense of mission.

But, most of all, I feel so pleased when seeing people enjoying museums and sharing their joy (more or less creatively). Is there a better sign of a mission accomplished?

KLM ad. The Rijksmuseum was the first to share it on Facebook.


Ines Fialho Brandao said...

Bravo for the text. I share your sense of disbelief as the debate got carried somewhere else with clear intent and no willingness to actually give a clear answer, or point of view on the interaction with visitors.

To be honest I was shocked to hear that a museum professional means thinking about objects rather than visitors.

Like I said in the debate, this months-old piece of legislation is outdated, confusing and opaque. It is also unenforceable, So we'll carry on in the merry land, with unenforceable laws disconnected form current cultural practices... the visitors will decide which uses they wish to make of museums and of their objects, regardless of the law.

Thank you for the invitation, I felt very lucky to be able to present my "libertarian" point of view in such a packed room on a very rainy evening.

Maria Vlachou said...

Thanks for accepting the invitation, Inês. And thanks for shaking us for time to time. We all need; sometimes we need it badly...