Mona Lisa Say Cheese


This article is not directed towards those who take flash photography in museums. You lot already know you are awful but you power on through anyway. Respect for committing to that level of dickishness.

As for the rest of you. There is only one reason to take a photo in a museum, and that is in creating your own art. There is a world to be appreciated on the faces of those looking at revered masterpieces. Documenting a friend as they get lost in what is in front of them as you see their expression change from awe to confusion to longing – knock yourself out.

But taking photos of art. Stop it. Just stop it.

It is bad enough that it has become commonplace at concerts now that if you are more than five rows back you will be experiencing the show through a number of iPhones. Now, as you wander galleries and museums you have to make way for people trying to take the perfect photo of something made for consumption in front of their eyes, not in front of their lens.

At the very least, it is distracting as you stand in front of something deemed worthy of being placed in a museum only to have someone squinting and clicking away beside you. At worst, you end up causing congestion as people try to see something you are blocking by your obnoxious need to document things worth experiencing in the moment.

It defeats the point of a museum. A lot of works by famous artists are Googleable. The medium of actually going outside means you get to experience these things in a whole new light. You can see individual brush strokes and subtle changes in colour that a camera will never pick up. Documentation is hindering our experiences.

And I am far from an artistic snob. For me, it has always been an unspoken rule that you do not take photos in a museum. You make the effort to go and see these living works of art where they are housed. They are there for you to go and interact with, to immerse yourself in – and to think that rather than do this we would prefer placing a lens between us and that artistic fix is just sad.

I am a big fan of taking photos, of pretty much anything. I once was lucky enough to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. I took a photo of its exterior because it is one incredible looking building; very modern and imposing as it sticks out over Bloor St in Toronto. But that is enough for me to trigger the memories of being there.

We paid $30 for entry. Remembering what was inside does not take photographic references. It is an exceptional museum. There was an exhibition involving airplane graveyards in the North American wastelands, and I can remember the look of these empty and cold and dead planes, combined with the signs of decay. I remember another floor showcasing objects from the Romantic period, and in front of me was Frédéric Chopin’s piano. I remember how it looked because I spent so long staring at it that it is imprinted on the back of my eyelids. I felt myself, in that moment, tied to what was in front of me. I never took a photo.

What I am lamenting is the lack of connection to the world around us. I do not agree with the V&A banning sketching. To sketch you have to be forming a relationship with your subject. It takes time, patience, precision, and it is in itself the creation of art. This is a whole world away from a quick snap (or a Snapchat) to show your pals you happened to be in the vicinity of a Klimt painting.

This applies to concerts as well – stop living through your digital devices and live in the moment. Your memory acts as the best journal in the world, but your head also acts as a gateway to feeling. In front of art, you can get lost in your head and explore and appreciate and question. This just cannot be done through a lens. Similarly, you cannot sing or dance or wave your arms as you try to record the encore at a Taylor Swift show. Shake off your camera confines and feel what is around you.

I am simply thankful that we have yet to take up the habit of snapping pictures in a movie theatre, but given that AMC are tempted to allow mobile phone usage in their cinemas, we could be nearing Instagram posts with a picture of Haley Joel Osment’s massive cinema-screen-sized head and the caption “omg this bro sees dead people snake-emoji snake-emoji flame-emoji one-hundred-emoji one-hundred-emoji.” Let us hope that they make the right decision.

[Scott Wilson – @HeartofFire]

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