Editorial: On Camera Policies in Privately Owned Public Spaces
Scroll Down for Directory
“and would you like the beef or the chicken chow mein… oh my god, he has a camera… quick someone go get the manager.”
As the popularity of photoblogs and amateur photography grows, the issue of camera policies in privately owned public spaces is becoming a significant issue. Earlier this year the New York Times published an article entitled Subway Officials Seek Ban on Picture-Taking that focused on New York City’s Transit Agency proposing a ban on unauthorized photography on City Subways.
The brilliant talent by new photographers and artists combined with free or inexpensive blog hosting is where many new artists are finding their voice and their audience. One of the fastest growing and exciting segments of the blogosphere is the rise of photoblogs. Much of this work, which is highlighted on sites like photoblogs.org, is breathtaking.
At the same time many corporations, museums, theaters, concert halls, clubs, stadiums, artists and bands are finding themselves at odds with their patrons, guests and fans. While some are taking progressive and accommodating steps to include these individuals, others are sticking with the inflexible no or limited camera policies of the past.
In the past month I personally have twice been asked not to take pictures in privately owned public spaces — once at a Starbucks on Market Street and once at PF Changs in Emeryville. I was equally disappointed upon recently arriving at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to discover that I would not be allowed to use my camera inside of their galleries.
The purpose of this editorial is not to whine about my being asked not to photograph in these establishments as some critics will be quick to allege. I understand the right of any owner, myself in my own home included, to adopt a policy for whatever reason, as random or insignificant as it may be. No, the purpose of this editorial is for me to assert my free speech right and to a further extent my economic right not to support these establishments in the future and to make a point.
My own view is that corporate interference with photography in privately owned public space is counterproductive. Alienating customers is never a good thing. A company like Starbucks needs to understand this. I believe that their, and PF Changs’ policies are merely the result of some overzealous marketing executive feeling a need to “protect” a brand. Yes this is their right, and yes I do and will respect that, but it is bad business and I personally will not reward them with my money in the future. Likewise I will share my dislike for these companies with others – again another right of mine.
My view on public museums is a little different. I feel that not only is it bad business for them to prohibit or impede photography but that it is morally wrong. The whole point of a museum is to open up the arts and sciences to as broad an audience as possible. The San Francisco MOMA should be as interested in sharing it’s collection with someone in a village in China who will never make it to San Francisco in their lifetime as they are to the patrons that pay the cover charge at the door. They should be enouraging, not discouraging, the widest possible public viewing and distribution of their content and collection.
Instead, by adopting a restrictive no camera policy (or only by approval), the MOMA seeks for it’s own reasons to assert a tight grip of control on it’s collection and only make it available to those who will provide economic benefit in exchange by way of paying a charge, buying a book in their bookstore, etc. Although certainly nowhere near as extreme and in a significantly more limited way, this is no different than a private collector, who because he or she has earned or was born with wealth, seeks to horde away art from the rest of the world. This is contrary to what a public museum should be about.
The criticism will be made that it is the artist’s themselves who exert these militant policies upon the museums of the world – to this I say nonesense. If this were the case then it would be simple to open up the permanent collection of art to photographers while disallowing photography in private exhibits. This is what is done for instance at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco but not at the MOMA.
The criticism also will be made that flash is disruptive and in some cases even damaging. Fine I say — disallow flash — but not non-flash photography.
My concept is to begin a resource for photoblogers, in San Francisco initially, but more broadly later, to point out the camera policies of various public spaces in privately owned venues. I will continue to update this document as I continue to research this important issue in the Bay Area and abroad. I welcome comments on the project and feedback on the idea.
Please note: If you feel that I have misrepresented your camera policy or that it is different than stated feel free to contact me and I will be happy to amend this living document. Also, if you change your policy please let me know and I will make the appropriate adjustment. If your venue is not listed and you would like to be listed feel free to drop me a line.
These Folks are Great
San Francisco Giants (SBC Park): The home of the San Francisco Giants has one of the most accommodating policies regarding camera usage around: “All cameras still and video are permitted into SBC Park for Giants games. Tripods are permitted, but may only be set up in areas where they do not obstruct walkways or other guests’ view of the game action.” According to Rick Mears, Vice President, Guest Services, “if there isn’t a very good and demonstrable reason (guest safety, or for the greater good of all guests’ ballpark experience) for having a restrictive policy on our guests we won’t have the restrictive policy. We want our fans to feel like honored guests when they visit SBC Park because that is precisely what they are.”
Golden State Warriors (Oakland Coliseum): “Cameras are permitted, but the use of a flash is not allowed. All types of video and audio equipment are not permitted in The Arena.”
Oakland Raiders (Oakland Coliseum): “Appropriately sized still cameras are permitted inside the stadium. Video cameras are not permitted.”
San Jose Sharks (HP Pavilion): “The Sharks also deserve another round of Kudos for changing the camera policy at the HP Pavilion. Instead of each usher determining whether a camera was professional or not, a sign on the front door last night said all cameras with lenses under 6 inches are allowed. This is a great policy in gadget crazy Silicon Valley.”
12 Galaxies (Club at 2565 Mission St.): “We do allow photography at the venue unless the artist performing strictly forbids it.” According to Robert Levy of 12 Galaxies, they have never had an artist that forbade it, however, if an artist did they would comply.
Slims (Club at 333 11th St.) : “The use of cameras in our venue is primarily dictated by the various artists that perform here. If they allow photography then we generally do as well. The only time we step in is if they are setting up large amounts of equipment which would take up too much space. If the bands ar
e cool with it, so are we. Tripods and large “professional-type” shoots are discouraged unless pre-arranged with the band’s and club’s management. We just don’t want the photographers interfering with the other patron’s good time” johnATgnomarDOTcom adds, “Slim’s should be in the good category…every time i’ve been there it’s been a good experience. i was even allowed to sit on the side of the stage when i was there on crutches. (I hopped up there, a staff member started walking over to tell me to get off, saw the crutches and changed his mind. i sat up there the whole show, shooting pics to my heart’s content.)
Bottom of the Hill (Club at 1233 17th Street): According to one of their owners Lynn Schwarz, “Our camera policy is this: feel free to take pictures so long as it’s OK with the band(which it is 99.9% of the time) and so long as your picture taking doesn’t interfere with other patrons’ enjoyment of the show. I cannot think of any good reason why we would limit picture-taking otherwise.
Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin Street): Still photography of objects in the permanent collection, taken in existing light with a hand-held camera, is permitted for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of tripods, flashes, and video cameras is prohibited. Photography is not permitted in galleries containing special exhibitions. Photographs taken in the museum may not be sold, reproduced or distributed without written permission from the Museum.
Shen Hua (2914 College Ave., Berkeley): I frequently photograph in this fantastic East Bay Chinese spot when dining there and have never had a problem.
Azure Ray (Band): According to Orenda from Azure Ray they allow photographers at their shows as long as the photographer is not on stage as an on stage photographer detracts from the show. They have never asked anyone to stop taking pictures at their shows and feels that photographers and bands can co-exist peacefully during a show as long as they respect each other’s work.
Tom Tom Club (Band): We’ve posted here before that we are only bound by club policies or those of promoters with whom we’ve contracted. If it’s OK with them, it’s OK with us. Rules are generally posted at the club door. When in doubt, check via phone. Camera flash doesn’t bother any artist who is already standing in the glare of harsh lights and spotlights. For the sake of good photos we try to convince in-house lighting techs to leave the lights bright, white and constant, so fast film with no flash should work, too. We want people to be able to see everyone on stage at all times, so to please be considerate is what we ask.
These Folks are to be Determined
San Francisco Muni: Some are reporting that recently the police have been clamping down on photography in the Muni system. Personally I have never had a problem but these reports are certainly discouraging.
Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus: “Ringling Bros. policy is that no video cameras of any kind are allowed in the arena; however still cameras are permitted providing they are non-professional type cameras, and the photos are intended for personal use only. Since the definition of non-professional cameras and the use of digital cameras varies from arena to arena; please contact your local arena to verify their policy.”
I don’t like the fact that they use the vague “non-professional” term. I own a Cannon EOS 10D and some might consider this professional. They should clarify this. I was able, however, to sneak this in while holding my daughter without trouble on Saturday. I also noticed a lot of people did not have trouble with Cannon Rebels. I posted some of my pictures of the circus on my photoblog.
IN-N-OUT Burger: They recently have been accused of not allowing photography in their restaurants. I have emailed the company seeking a clarification and will report when I hear back.
These are the Bad Guys
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA): Does not allow photography in their galleries.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: They do not allow cameras in their gallery for “security” purposes according to Adriane Lee, “in addition to respecting artist copyright laws.” It seems to me that they should allow photography for cleared items at least. The security argument is very weak.
Great American Music Hall: No cameras allowed.
Fillmore and Warfield: NO cameras or recording equipment.
PF Changs: Was asked not to photograph at their Emeryville location.
Starbucks: Was asked not to photograph at one of their Market Street locations.
Dashboard Confessional (Band): Disposable cameras are the only kind of cameras allowed in da club.
Bjork (Artist): Observe that there usually is a NO camera policy at these concerts.
Pearl Jam (Artist): “Q: How about small cameras and using a flash? Are those ok this year? A: This year it will be the small disposable cameras only, no flash.”
Wal-Mart: Per Dan Gillmor, Wal-Mart’s policy that all photos taken on its property must be approved in advance includes breaking news coverage, company spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said. The company requires the media – or anyone else – to get approval before taking pictures in Wal-Mart stores or on Wal-Mart property, she said. Asked if journalists photographing unexpected news, such as a fire, need the same permission, Gallagher said they do. After hours, a journalist should call the company’s 24-hour corporate hotline before taking pictures, she said.