Portland Art Museum, You Suck, Oregon Historical Socitey, You Suck Worse
So today’s question is a simple one.
How is it that The Metropolitan Museum and the MOMA Museum in New York, two of the finest art museums in the world, will allow photography in their museums and the rinky dink Portland Art Museum will not?
Heck, even that little museum back in my own town of San Francisco, the de Young Museum, will allow photography, but somehow the folks up here running the Art Museum in Portland think that they are doing society a favor by restricting people from taking photos in their museum.
What’s worse, you also can’t take photos even at the Oregon Historical Society. That’s right, the Oregon Historical Society who you would think as a public institution ought to be interested in widely disseminating and encouraging viewing of the history of Oregon, would rather shut photographers out.
You know what show is going on at the Oregon Historical Society right now? A show about Abraham Lincoln. God forbid that someone snap an unauthorized photo of one of our greatest, but very well dead, American Presidents.
Do you know what the Oregon Historical Society’s Mission Statement is?
“The Oregon Historical Society’s mission is preserving and interpreting Oregon’s past in thoughtful, illuminating, and provocative ways.”
Of course maybe a better mission statement for them might be,
“The Oregon Historical Society’s mission is preserving and interpreting Oregon’s past in thoughtful, illuminating, and provocative ways, but sometimes photography of Abraham Lincoln can just be a tad *too* provocative so leave your camera at home asshat.”
Now for some of you this post might sound like a bit of a repeat and you might just chalk this post up to Thomas Hawk trying to be America’s angriest photographer, but seriously WTF?
Do the trustees at the Portland Art Museum and Historical Society really think that their “amazing” collections are that much more worthy of protection from those vicious photographers that might dare publish a photograph of a Degas sculpture up on Flickr than the Trustees at the MOMA and the Met?
That’s the show that’s going on at the Portland Art Museum right now, a show on Degas. Hey Brian Ferriso (he’s the dude that’s the executive director, I think, at the Portland Art Museum, he was the art director at the Tulsa OK museum before this gig). Hey Brian Ferriso check this out. I’ve got a *real* photograph up of a *real* Degas. Check it out. Do you know where I took the photo at? The Metropolitan Museum of Art in *NEW YORK CITY.* Yep, I know, those New Yorkers can be backwards sometimes, can you believe it, a photograph of a real life Degas.
There are lots of reasons that folks like Ferriso will try to justify their museum policies. The one you hear a lot is, well flash damages our valuable paintings. In truth I’ve never seen any conclusive research that flash damages paintings at all. But even if the same tin foil hat guy that made up the “no cellphone usage” at the gas station signs thinks that flash will somehow radiate a painting, then the solution to this one is easy. Allow photography *without flash*. Heck, my 5D doesn’t even have a flash on the camera. And by the way, if flash is so bad for paintings, then why are the trustees at the Met and MOMA being so careless and reckless by allowing you to photograph their paintings?
Another reason I’ve heard for disallowing photography in museums is that it is disruptive to the other patrons. Ok, fine. Then allow photography one day a week and post the day. This way those sensitive ear folks that would rather not be bothered by the quiet click of a camera might choose one of the other 6 days of the week to go.
I suspect the real reason that the Portland Museum and Historical Society don’t allow photography is because they are afraid that if people can take their own photos then they won’t buy their overpriced books in their bookstores. And I’m sorry this is just too lame a reason not to let people take photos.
The Portland Art Museum and Historical Society need to wake up. They need to understand that by allowing the democracy of the digital world to publish thousands of photos of their collections on Flickr that people become *more* interested in seeing the collection in person, not less interested. That social media can be trusted and that rather than having people restricted that they should open things up more. These institutions are public institutions. Non-profit public institutions receiving the most favorable tax treatment in our society. By disallowing the world beyond Portland access to their collections they do society a dis-service.
That’s all for now. I will say that I got up this morning and saw the most amazing sunrise over the City of Portland. I’ll post those photos later and in the meantime if you want to check out some cool photographs from museums check out my collection of images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the de Young, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum or the Oakland Museum of California. Sadly, Portland’s Art Museum and Historical Society won’t be getting sets in my library. But hey, then again, they didn’t get my $10 for admission either.
By the way, in no way should my condemnation of these bad museum policies in Portland be relflective of my overall feelings about the City of Portland and the people who live here. The people of Portland are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s amazing to me that strangers will just come up to you and start a conversation with you. This is very different than San Francisco and I’ve found it really nice just having random strangers come up to me and talk to me about what I’m doing and my photography. And the photographic beauty in this great city is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The bridges, the neon, the nightlife, the art, the galleries. Portland has now become one of my most favorite cities in the world. I could see myself living here someday and I will be back many, many times in the future.
Update: Rachel Schoening from the Oregon Historical Society responds:
“Had we been contacted in advance regarding photos of an exhibit, I would have given permission. It’s just that simple. It has nothing to do with the store. In fact, we don’t have any books depicting the Lincoln exhibit in the store. When a collector or organization lends to a museum, they often have rules attached. One of them is usually “no photography”. We have no choice but to follow that rule. It is usually meant for commercial photography using very hot bright lights, etc. That’s why I can make exceptions some times. Thus, the difference between permanent and non permanent exhibits & allowed photography. We have more control over permanent exhibits. Notice the low lights in the exhibits? That’s because a very old manuscript can be damaged by long exposure to light. If we want the copy of the emancipation proclamation to be around for eternity, every bit of safety counts. Will a quick snap hurt it? No. I get that. Also- there are photos in the exhibit that are from the Library of Congress. We had to pay usage fees based on our specific use. If someone took a photo of the exhibit & used it to create something commercial we would be held responsible. I don’t like it, but it’s the reality. We just have to be vigilant.”
and a bit more in the comment below.