Happy Martin Luther King Day, I Wish Photos Were Allowed at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

Martin Luther King JrI haven’t been blogging much because I’m on an intensive 5 day shoot covering Nashville and Memphis as part of my project to document the 100 largest U.S. cities. I’ve been posting brief sporadic notes on my trip here.

I’ve been trying to get a good perspective and sense for what both Nashville and Memphis are about by shooting all of the major tourist destinations, as well as a lot of lesser known but interesting subjects as well (like an abandoned Federal prison in Tennessee or the Tennessee Music Valley wax museum). I got into Memphis yesterday, and in addition to shooting the Brooks Museum and Graceland (both of which have excellent open photography policies) shot some amazing blues musicians playing on Beale Street last night.

Overall my experience with shooting in Nashville and Memphis has been very positive. All of the live music venues here seem to have no problem with photography. Even the Grand Ole Opry, perhaps the biggest act in the state, allows photography (I got some great shots of Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris on Saturday night).

It’s going to take me a while to get all of these shots processed once I get back as I’m horribly behind on my photo processing.

But I was disappointed this morning to learn that the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis (which is housed in the motel building where Dr. King was assassinated at) that I was going to visit this morning does not allow photography. From their website:

Cameras and Video: Photography and videotaping inside the Museum is prohibited. All cameras should be checked in with Security before entering the exhibits. Media must be credentialed 48 hours in advance and requests should be forwarded to the Office of Marketing and Communication at (901) 521-9699, ext. 292.

I can think of very few things more important to document than the Civil Rights movement in America. It is disappointing to me that the museum would prohibit photos there and prohibit people from sharing information about this movement online and as broadly across the world as possible. It looks like I will only be getting a shot of the outside of the museum today.

Of all the museums that don’t allow photography that I am aware of, this is one of the ones that I think makes the least sense. Hopefully someday they will reconsider this backwards policy and realize that allowing people to take photos there is a big part of publicizing the history and message of civil rights to the world at large.

Happy Martin Luther King Day to everyone!

Washington DC’s Capitol Visitor Center and Their Crappy “No Photography” Policy

You can't take pictures in the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center
Front desk of U.S. Capitol’s Exhibition Hall photo by Andertho.

I was disappointed to see a post from my friend Andertho on Flickr this morning regarding a photography ban that is in place at the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Vistor Center in Washington DC. Of all places that ought to allow photography, Government (remember that old “by the people, for the people thingy?) ought to be the most open of all. If New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the NY MOMA, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Louvre, etc. can allow photography around their priceless works of art, certainly a museum owned by the Government (really by the people though) ought to allow it.

The new museum, which opened a little over a year ago, is taking a step backwards by instituting this ban on photography. In recent years many museums have in fact begun dropping their “no photography” policies, including the SF MOMA in San Francisco and just this past fall the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

From Andertho:

“At first I thought, “Well maybe they don’t want terrorists conducting a photo reconnaissance of the underground space beneath the Congress—that makes sense.” But no, the non-exhibit areas are fully photographable, as this photo attests.

So I looked on the Center’s website, and they said they ban photography in order to “protect the original documents that are on display.” OK, that makes some sense–just a little. There were a few original documents under glass in the expansive Exhibition area. However, being an avid D.C. photographer, I also know that the National Archives allows photography so long as you do not use a flash or a focus-assist light. I think that’s fair, and the National Archives has a few important documents on display, like, for example, the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m pretty sure they have an original copy of the Magna Carta too. Yeah… I may have a picture of that somewhere. So, ummm… maybe if we can figure out how to take pictures around the Constitution, we can do the same thing around copies of laws passed under that Constitution?

So why no photography in the Exhibition Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center? I really don’t know—it does not make much sense, does it? It seems like pure bureaucracy doing what it does best—not caring about the very people it is there to serve.”

It is absurd to me that U.S. Capitol Visitor Center would cite the need to “protect the documents” as a reason for the ban. This reason is just pure BS to me. Certainly the documents housed in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center are no more valuable or more likely to be damaged by a non-flash camera than all of the important paintings in the Louvre or well, the original U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, both of which are allowed to be photographed.

Rather, this ban more likely is just another example of some little self important curator, putting their own proprietary need to rule their little kingdom by creating unnecessary rules and restricting who gets access to this collection and who does not. Oh and the desire to try and sell you overpriced books in their gift shop rather than letting you take your own photographs.

This is unfortunate and I hope the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center reconsiders this backwards policy.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Their Crappy No Photography Policy

A Brand Knew You

Please see important update below.

This is as close as I got to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I only visited the exterior of their museum because of their crappy anti-photography policy in their museum.

It’s amazing to me that the Art Institute of Chicago (a mere few miles away, with a much better contemporary art collection) allows photography, while the backwards thinking Musuem of Contemporary Art does not. Further, some of the most significant contemporary art museums in the world allow photography including the MOMA in New York City and the SF MOMA in San Francisco.

As much as I would have liked to have visited the Museum of Contemporary Art while visiting Chicago, I am glad that they did not get my admission fee.

It’s terrible when museums like this put photographer unfriendly policies in place to try and sell more of their overpriced postcards and books at their bookstore.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago should change this anti-photographer and unfriendly photography policy.

Update: It would appear that the MCA has changed their no photo policy. In there house rules section they used to include the following verbiage: “Photography/Filming: Photography and filming are not permitted in the galleries, this includes cell phone cameras and video cameras.”

It now appears that this verbiage has been dropped from the current house rules section on their current website. There is also a comment on the post suggesting that they have changed their policy and now allow photography in their galleries. If this is true this would be a wonderful improvement and I look forward to visiting the museum on my next trip to Chicago.

Ok, So What’s the Deal? Can You or Can You Not Take Photos Inside of Starbucks?

You and All That Caffeine

A few months ago I was excited to read about Starbuck’s joining Flickr and sponsoring an “official” Starbucks group there. I’m sure they had to pony up some big bucks to pay Yahoo/Flickr for that opportunity, but I was pleased to see them show up for the conversations that go along with a group on Flickr.

One of the first posts that was made in the new group though was by someone complaining about the fact that many people have been harrased for taking photos inside of Starbucks:

“I was given to understand that many managers and employees have violently opposed photos made on or of their premises.

Does this group represent a new turn in corporate spirit, or is it launched in spite of the unpleasant, even threatening experiences some have had at Starbucks?”

Initially things looked pretty good. The group admin, and Starbuck’s marketing rep, Anali Orr posted the following:

“Our formal policy is that all press-related photo inquiries need to contact press@starbucks.com prior to taking pictures in a Starbucks store.

However, we have no formal policy around customers taking non-press related pictures in-store so if you hear otherwise, it might just be because your barista is camera-shy :)”

Great! Right?

Well, not so fast. It turns out that the situation is hardly clear at this point and after 3 Months we still have no idea if photos are allowed as originally suggested by Orr or not. What we do have are a series of week after week after week non-answers coming back from Starbucks marketing. Below are all of the responses filtered out from Starbucks which read like typical corporate doublespeak and delay tactics, with no official answer from Starbucks and no official answer anywhere near in sight.

2 Months Ago: “I am making great headway here and hope to have some detailed information for you all shortly. To give you an idea of what I’m up to, I am researching if some of our international markets have policies around photography in stores. Since international laws and regulations vary country by country, this is quite the task 🙂 I’m also working to see where the confusion is stemming from in some US stores.

Again, stay tuned. I’m working on it! “

2 Months Ago:
“@shepherd – no worries, I understand why this would be frustrating from your perspective. I’ll be in touch! “

2 Months Ago: “Pye42 – I deleted your last comment – please respect Flickr’s Community Guidelines when posting to our group. “

2 Months Ago: “Thanks Metrix X! I have been meeting with various teams in the building and learning a lot about the world of policies 🙂 I hope to have something more concrete to share with you soon – thanks for your patience while I work through the details.”

2 Months Ago: “Jayster – I am getting closer to a final ruling each day. I have a big meeting on Wednesday and after that, I will post here with an update.”

6 Weeks Ago: “Hello everyone, I did have a very productive meeting on Wednesday of last week. We read through each of your comments and now the legal team is reviewing some of your feedback around public and private property. More meetings this week…more to come!”

6 Weeks Ago:
“Still here and haven’t forgotten about you. I’m writing a blog this weekend/next week about this discussion and hope to post by the end of the week. I’ll keep you in the know. Have a good weekend!”

5 Weeks Ago: “Just wrote a blog response that my legal team is currently reviewing…once I have final approval I’ll post it and let you know. I know it’s taken a while and I know I’ve said it before but I appreciate your patience. This has been quite an interesting project to work on and has involved many meetings with all sorts of teams throughout the building. SO glad you guys brought this to our attention so that we could sort it out for you!”

3 Weeks Ago: “We want to do this in the best way possible. There are many perspectives to take into consideration as part of this discussion. That means considering our baristas’ daily work and their privacy, our customers’ experience in our stores as well as your photographic expression of that experience. We have a lot of things to consider when making decisions that affect what happens in our stores. It has to be the right thing for our partners (employees) and customers, and it has to work well for stores around the world.

Please continue to be patient while we work on a solution. In the meantime, I do ask that you continue to be respectful of customers and partners in our stores. If a barista asks you not to take pictures, please respect their request.

More to come – Anali “

3 Weeks Ago: “SteelToad – I appreciate your comments and I have to add that this group isn’t explicitly here for the purpose of taking pictures inside Starbucks stores. That is one part of the Starbucks Experience but pictures of your experience out-of-store are welcome in this group as well.”

…and now for the past three weeks Starbucks has gone radio silent?

Is Starbuck’s trying to launch a beach-head in social media on a photo sharing site while prohibiting actual photography in their stores just another typical example of a corporate misstep and blunder in social media?

Will Starbucks ever get back to the group with an actual definitive answer of what their photo policy is? Will it be before 2010? Will it be before 2011?

It reminds me of the time that the Whitney Museum in NYC tried to start a group on Flickr only to see it crash and burn when people showed up there objecting to the fact that, well, you can’t take photos in the Whitney (which is stupid given that the much more significant contemporary art museum the NY MOMA in New York allows photgraphy).

I actually like Starbucks a lot, am a frequent customer and especially when travelling and working, sort of think of their stores as almost a home base to recharge, log online, download photos, refuel the caffeine and use the restroom. For what it’s worth though I think that they should allow photography in their stores. Either way though, it makes Starbucks look foolish when they string people along for three months and then abandon the conversation.

Of course Orr is still around, she just posted in the “let´s found a chai latte fan-group:-)” thread 8 days ago.

LASD Officer Richard Gylfie, Photography is Not a Crime

I was very disappointed to learn of the recent run in Photographer Right’s Advocate Shawn Nee had with Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Richard Gylfie.

In the video above (edited down from 25 minutes to a little over 9 minutes) Nee documents an altercation he had with Deputy Gylfie while conducting the perfectly legal act of photographing the Los Angeles Hollywood Metro subway station. During the altercation Deputy Gylfie states that it is against the rules for Nee to be shooting in the subway, which is in fact incorrect. Law enforcement officials ought to know and understand the law as it pertains to the areas that they patrol.

More than anything I was disappointed in how Gylfie bullies Nee and especially how he threatens to turn his name over to the FBI to have him detained and inconvenienced in the future simply because the officer has the power to put his name on a list. As photographers we should not be subjected to this sort of harassment by law enforcement. Using 9/11 and terrorism as a bully pulpit is no excuse. It is simply not illegal to photograph subways.

This video should make you mad. Abusive cops like Gylfie don’t deserve to wear the badge. If this video makes you mad as well, please take a second to digg this story here.

Security Guard at 555 California Street Threatens to Punch Photographer in the Face and Break His F****ing Camera

On digg here.

I was disappointed today to read a report by my friend Troy Holden, who works on the Caliber blog over a run in that he and another photographer had with a group of security guards at 555 California Street. I’ve known Troy for a while and we’ve been out shooting a lot together. According to Troy, security guards there objected to him and a friend photographing the building based on “safety” issues. When challenged on the photography ban, according to Troy, one of the security guards asked him if he’d like to be punched in the face and threatened to break his f***ing camera.

I’m very disappointed to read about this terrible reaction by these guards at 555 California Street. Photography is not a crime, nor should be taking exterior photographs of buildings and architecture. Furthermore the reaction by this guard was totally uncalled for and extremeley unprofessional. I hope that he is disciplined for his behavior in this case.

Personally I’ve never had a problem with 555 California Street. Here is a set of images, in fact, that I’ve personally made of the property. Perhaps this is something new there or perhaps Troy just stumbled on the unfortunate day when a security guard decided to go on a power trip.

Voronado Realty manages the building. You can find some of their representatives to contact here in order to express your disappointment in how their guards handled this incident.

The New Walt Disney Family Museum’s No Photography Policy Sucks

Leaving It All Behind Me

I was excited to read about the opening this week of the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio in San Francisco. I love photographing everything that I can in San Francisco, and a new museum seemed like a perfect place to explore, especially one centered around Walt Disney.

One of the things that I especially loved about Disneyland when I visited with my family a few years back was that they had a completely open photo policy — allowing you free and unfettered access to the park with your camera.

Unfortunately, not so for the newly opened Walt Disney Family Museum. A quick review of their website shows that photography is forbidden in the museum. It’s disappointing to see a new museum open with a no photo policy when so many museums recently have begun moving the other way and removing photography restrictions. Just last month, for example, the EMP in Seattle dropped their no photography policy.

It’s unfortunate that I will not be going to the New Disney museum or taking my family there. It’s too bad that they’ve decided at their opening to adopt such a photographer unfriendly policy. Hopefully they can reconsider this restriction and take measures to come into line with most of the other Bay Area museums including the de Young, The SF MOMA, the Asian Art Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Academy of Sciences, the Legion of Honor and many other smaller museums who do allow photography.

I do love taking images of Disney imagery and am disappointed that I won’t be able to include photographs from this museum in my collection of Disney images.

Good News, Seattle’s Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum to Allow Photography

EMP + Needle
Photo by papalars.

I was pleased to read this morning over at the Seattle PI that Seattle’s EMP museum will be lifting their ban on photography beginning September 26th. I’ve long wanted to visit this museum, but never have due to their photographer unfriendly policy in the past. The EMP, which is in a beautiful Frank Gehry-designed building near the base of Seattle’s Space Needle is a museum dedicated to the history of popular music and science fiction. I’ve always wanted to shoot it and imagine that the contents inside the museum would represent a photographer’s treasure trove of possible material. Flash will still be prohibited but non-flash photography will be allowed.

From the Seattle PI:

“Everyone in the museum is just thrilled this is the new policy,” said spokeswoman Maggie Skinner. “(The old policy) was kind of outdated.”

Like many museums, EMP/SFM has had a strict no-photograph rule since the Experience Music Project opened in 2000. But as more people take pictures from cell phones and small digital cameras and share them online, that rule has become almost impossible to enforce.

Not to mention a little foolish.

“From a marketing perspective, people sharing photographs is the best positive publicity you can get,” Skinner said.

The PI notes that the Seattle Art Museum is still sticking to it’s photography ban. In the article the SAM spokeswoman Nicole Griffin cites copyright concerns as the reason why they don’t allow it.

Personally I think copyright concerns as a reason for limiting photography at a museum is pretty stupid. There is no liability on the part of any museum for infringing use of photographs taken by their patrons and the vast majority of people will never use those images commercially anyways. The Seattle Art Museum should follow the lead of other major contemporary art museums like the the MOMA in New York and the SF MOMA in San Francisco, along with museums like the Met, the Chicago Art Institute and the de Young and many other well regarded fine arts museums, and drop their ban on photography as well. Banning photography in a museum is an antiquated practice designed to force patrons into spending money on overpriced books and postcards in a museums gift store rather than allowing objects and art to be shared as broadly as possible.

Anyways, nice work on the part of the EMP. The next time I’m in Seattle I’ll definitely plan on visiting.

Thanks to pjmixer for the heads up on the change in policy!

U.S. Department of Transportation Responds to ACLU by Telling Us What We Already Know, Photographing the Exterior of Federal Buildings is Perfectly Legal

OT response to the ACLU regarding photo harassment

A few months back I blogged about a letter from Erin M’s photostream where the ACLU of the National Capital Area had sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation asking them to clarify their policy regarding photographing the exterior of their building after several instances of photographer harassment. Well here we are some three months latter and the U.S. Department of Transportation has finally responded to the ACLU, basically telling them what we already know, that it’s not illegal to photograph the exterior of their buildings and structures. In the letter, dated August 19, 2009, to Arthur Spitzer at the ACLU, from Ronald A. Jackson, Assistant General Counsel for Operations at the Department of Transportation, Jackson writes in part:

“I write in response to your letter of May 29, 2009 to our Deputy General Counsel, Rosalind Knapp, concerning whether the Department of Transportation has a policy or practice of prohibiting individuals from photographing the exterior of our buildings.

We do not, and in the instance that you discuss in your letter, our uniformed security guard was incorrect in telling the individual that he was not permitted to take photographs. For that, we do apologize.”

The Dunsmuir Estate’s No Photography Policy Sucks, Oh Yeah and So Does Their Bait and Switch Admission Scam (Updated)

The Dunsmuir Estate, Oakland, California

So one of the things in this bad economy that my wife and I try to do is to try and find lots of free things that we can do with our four children. While we have and have had family memberships at many museums and public estates (including Filoli Gardens in Woodside) over the years, we also try to take advantage of free days as well that many museums also make available. So we were pleased when we got an email this morning from Jackie@dunsmuir.org from the Historic Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate in Oakland reminding us that today was free admission Family First Sundays. You can see the email below which clearly indicates that admission today is free. They mention a tour of the estate as well (that we were not interested in) but it clearly states free admission. So after making the trek out to the estate we were disappointed when we were told at the gate that we would need to pay $18 if we wanted to get in.

The Dunsmuir Estate's Bait and Switch Admission Scam

Now I know what you’re thinking, so what, it’s only $18. But that’s not the point. Money’s tight right now for everyone and we’d just spent a bunch of gas money driving down there only to be told that we’d either have to pay an admission fee or be turned away. I told the woman at the gate that in their email it said that the first Sunday of the month was free but she wouldn’t have it, insisting that we pay the $18. So reluctantly I shelled out the $18 and we headed into the estate. At least I’ll be able to get some good photos out of it I thought. But then again, imagine my disappointment when we’d arrived at the estate and I saw a big “No Photography” sign in front of the estate.

The Dunsmuir Estate's Stupid No Photography PolicyNow, before heading out to see the estate I did a thorough review of their website and saw no photography prohibition anywhere on the site. What’s more, I was not told about the “no photography” policy at the front gate before they took my money when I had a extra large Canon 5D Mark II hanging around my neck. No, it wasn’t until they already had your money that they decided to inform you about this policy.

When I asked the docent Marla, why the no photo policy, she replied to me “oh, well it’s a museum.” When I told Marla that actually most museums allow photograpphy she replied back to me, “well, if we allowed photography it would slow the tour down.” Now personally I think that’s one of the lamest reasons I’ve ever heard for banning photography. I’ve had the opportunity to tour many different historic estates — Hearst Castle, the Filoli Estate in Woodside, the Pittock Mansion in Portland — and all of them have always allowed personal photography. So I was double bummed after being promised a free Sunday for my family to find that now my joy and past time of photography was also being denied.

Overall my experience touring the Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate was a terrible one. I would not recommend a visit. Especially if you are a photographer you’ll be annoyed by their photography prohibition for no reasonable reason whatsoever.

You know what else bums me out? After I got home and pulled up their website to see if they had more on their admission policy there, it says that children 11 and under are free and adults are $5. So not only did they charge me when they shouldn’t have. They even overchaged me the standard admission by charging a fee for my four children who I clearly told the person at the gate were 4, 6, 7 and 8. All four under 11. Now I know times are tough for non-profits, and for all I know maybe the ticket charger woman was simply scamming us and pocketing the money herself, but baiting and switching people promising them a free family day and then charging them $18 when they arrive is not right.

I’ve sent an email on this matter to their Executive Director Jim DeMersman and hopefully will be able to obtain a refund and also get them to reconsider their ban on photography.

If you’d like to see photos of mine from two estates with more reasonable photography policies, you can find my photos from the Filoli Estate here and from the Pittock Mansion here.

Update: I received word back from the Dunsmuir Estate. In addition to providing me a refund for my visit, they are also considering opening up the property to photography in the near future. If and when they update their photo policy I will post that here as well. Jackie Antig, their Marketing and PR Manager, sent me the following email below:

“Hello Thomas:

I understand the frustrations you face as money is indeed scarce and treasured even more so than any other time in recent history. Bearing this in mind, our staff wholeheartedly spends its time and energy thinking thoughtfully about the programs and price points we offer. We envision meaningful experiences for our community and are truly heartbroken that you left feeling unsatisfied and deceived. My earnest hope is that I may be able to shed some light onto the matters you’ve outlined.

The admission rates for our Family First Sundays are two fold as indicated by the price stratification in the notification you received. To enter the grounds to explore, picnic and enjoy the activities we offered is free. As your family saw, the Estate is an incredibly beautiful place and is befitting of quaint and intimate strolls and picnics; many people opt against going on a tour and choose to simply enjoy the setting.

The other element of the aforementioned admission structure pertains to the mansion tours. To participate in a mansion tour is $5 per adult and children under the age of 11 are free. Since your family chose to go on a docent-led tour, you were asked for admission. You should have only had to pay $10 in total for both you and your wife and your children should have been let in for free, instead of the $18 that was asked of you. Our deepest and sincerest of apologies for the confusion over this matter. I understand full well the shock that overcame you when you traversed to the Estate not expecting to pay. We will happily reimburse you in full to any mailing address you wish to disclose.

This experience is telling of the elements of miscommunication in our communication channels, both between us and our public and amongst ourselves. While there was a lot of thought invested in thoroughly articulating our admission rates, you have helped us see that more has to be done to be clear so that individuals like yourself are well informed when making choices about their time and money. Additionally, we must also make extra strides to be sure that the ticket booth attendants are fully and accurately knowledgeable about our rates and are open and hospitable to the concerns of our patrons since you noted having expressed your confusion to them right away.

With regards to our no photography policy, we are currently in the midst of reviewing it and have been for some time now. I agree with you that it needs to be reconsidered and should it remain as it is, there should be complete visibility about it in all of our key communication avenues, like our website. Photography is an art, a window into the poetic everyday experience that documents who we are as individuals and as a collective society. We are hoping that in a short time, the interior of the mansion will be part of that story through the insightful eyes of our community.

With immense sincerity,

Jackie Antig”