April 28, 2006

Photography in buildings.

Kristian Knutsen writes about the difficult distinctions between bloggers and traditional press when it comes to taking photographs inside a public building. At issue are the photos taken on the opening day of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCa). The photos I took, blogged here, are part of the controversy. But -- as the article notes -- I asked if photography was permitted as I entered and was told yes. Now, the museum authorities are expressing concern about this photography.

Ironically, I gave them a lot of free publicity, better -- I think -- than advertisements they might shell out a lot of money for. I'm also quoted in the article saying that I think the rights of the artists need to be protected. Myself, I avoided closely picturing any artwork out of respect for the artists' rights. And I think it's important not to interfere with the aesthetic experience of museum-goers. Turning off the flash is an absolute minimum, and standing back and not intruding is a matter of basic respect for others.

As for architecture, however, I think you've got to be allowed to photograph buildings. The building authorities are now fretting about "professional photography," and saying it's different from photography "for personal use." Clearly, they haven't really grasped what photography has become in the age of Flickr. What does it mean anymore to speak of photography "for personal use"? Ordinary people upload their digital files. How repressive do public authorities really want to be about that?


reader_iam said...

Interesting, the timing of this issue.

Yet more food for thought about the ever-evolving blogging framework.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Who thought of that name?

MmmmMoCA should pay you a royalty for all that good publicity you gave them. Or take out a blog ad. Or use you pictures in an ad and then invite you to a soiree. And then uninvite you.

Ann Althouse said...

Ruth Anne: LOL!

Uncle Jimbo said...


I realize you trend toward polite, but, this seems simple.

"Can I take pictures?"



Gorgeous place and lovely picz.

Ross said...

Admit it, Althouse. You have become Big Media.

BTW, is that the museum that Santiago Calatrava designed? He did a bridge in our town. Charming, but I'm sure glad somebody else paid for it.


MadisonMan said...

Santiago Calatrava's museum is in Milwaukee. I wonder if you can take pictures there?

I would be curious to see the difference between taking photos in the building vs. taking pictures of the building's interior architecture, which is something I'd be more likely to do. Hmmm. Have digital camera, will travel, perhaps.

Wickedpinto said...

Private area's open to the public are in fact public area's owned by public people.

You can't allow everyone in, and say that they can't do a thing that doesn't damage the property or area.

Not many Tourists will enter any of those buildings without a camera (period) the problem with the pictures is based on promotional timing, not legal fact.

They wanted to control the drip of info, so that there was always something new. but since the info would be spread universaly in an instant by a reporter or blogger or whatever, they couldn't control the spread, so they had a problem.

They should embrace it, they should say "this is what it looks like on your screen but imagine it in life?!"

If security is the issue, you don't need hi-film photography to find the weak parts of a building, you don't even need pictures, to define the weak parts, you can Basicaly, just take pictures of the outside of every building, and then document the locations of every elevator, and know where the weak spots are.

This is crap, and silly, and ignorant on the part of the museum. If it isn't about security, or control of press coverage, then it is about outright idiocy.

michael a litscher said...

I took some photographs of the Calatrava in Milwaukee.

I'd walked in with my camera bag and tripod, set up, and started photographing the ceiling. I'd gotten a few shots off when someone from the museum asked if I was with a newspaper. I said I wasn't, and then she informed me that I was not allowed to use a tripod.

Not sure if the objection was to a non-pro using a tripod, or if they were worried about someone tripping over one of it's legs, so I just folded the legs in and used it like a monopod without anyone saying another word about it to me.

I did contact the museum a few days later asking for their permission to post some of the photos on my web site, and they asked if it was for commercial purpose. When I said no, I was just a hobbyist, they said no problem.

Slocum said...

I remember reading that the same issue came up at the time of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Amateur photography was a new phenomenon then and the Fair allowed amateurs but not pros to take photos. The reason was that the Fair made quite a lot of money selling its own photographs.

I imagine the issue remains the same--the museum wants to be able to control (and profit from) professionally-taken fine art interior photographs and also photographs of the art work, and that's especially true if the artwork work is NOT copyrighted. That is, if I own art that is long out of copyright, I can have the effective equivalent of copyright protection if I don't allow anybody else to produce images of it. And any new photographs of the public-domain work that I produce are protected by copyright.

BTW, what are the laws with respect to photographs of copyrighted works? Fallingwater, for example, is still under copyright--it would be a violation to hire a builder to produce a copy. But is it a copyright violation to photograph Fallingwater and sell those images?

Ann Althouse said...

Here are my photographs inside the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Re MMoCA: I not only received permission, but I carried a full-size SLR camera conspicuously throughout the museum for over an hour, took over 200 pictures, was seen by many guards and other employees, and even had a long conversation with one of the guards, in which I talked about the fact that I was going to put the pictures on my blog.

Really, it's self-defeating for the museum to be harsh to people with digital cameras and blogs. Above all, they want people to come to the museum, and the blog is publicity aimed right at many people who might decide to travel here. Obviously, the pictures show that there is something magnificent to be seen. Do photographs of the Eiffel Tower make you feel you don't need to go see it, or do they create a desire to see it "in person"? And if you travel to visit something spectacular, you usually want to photograph it (and share your photos in your normal ways). What if you're a blogger thinking of coming in from out of town? If you knew you couldn't blog your photography, you might plan a different trip. I know that my own travel plans are tied to blogging plans.

Seven Machos said...

I read an article about the profusiıon of legalized gambling once. Some casino person from Las Vegas said Vegas is not worried that Las Vegas will lose business as a result. Quite the opposite. After all, said the spokesperson, do the folks at Pebble Beaach worry when some municipal course is built in Boise?

hygate said...

I think the museum is going to have to settle on a policy. If the management does not want pictures of the interior or the artwork posted on the Internet then they will either have to prohibit amateur photography, or they need to lighten up. In my experience, if a museum or other site is generating revenue by selling professionally done images then they are less likely to allow amateur photography. I've been in beautiful churches all over Italy where photography is allowed as long as you don't use a flash, but don't try to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. The churches might, at most, have some postcards for sell. The Vatican has a huge gift shop were you can get some beautiful art books and prints.

Maxine Weiss said...

Hmmm: Can you copyright a building?

Maybe they feel that the photographs infringe on their copyrights in some way.

And, the person who granted permission didn't know exactly what was proprietary and what wasn't?

Don't know.

I do know that lots of amateur photographs being shared are putting the commercial photographers out of business. If the museum has an offical photographer, that they are paying big bucks to.....

It is a concern, I imagine.

Peace, Maxine

Slocum said...

Hmmm: Can you copyright a building?

Yep. People have been sued for copyright infringement. Even people who moved and built another 'copy' of a house they hired an architect to design. If the contract isn't specifically 'work for hire', you own the house but the architect owns the copyright. Google turned up this, for example:


But that doesn't answer the question of when (if ever) it is copyright infringement to photograph a copyrighted work of art. Clearly it would seem to me that a photograph of a two dimensional artwork (painting, drawing, photograph) is just a form of duplication and would be an infringement. But what about a photo of a building, a statue, or even a wall of paintings in a gallery? Legally, would that be like 'sampling' in music? That's not illogical, but on the other hand, if that were the case, it would be almost impossible to take a photograph that included ANY building or manufactured object of any kind without infringing somebody's copyright.

Hey, Ann, this is a legal blog. I know this isn't your area of expertise, but...

Maxine Weiss said...

With all due respect, this is a better site for copyright info, a bit scattered, but a higher authority:


(Library of Congress)

Wow, I'm learning a lot. "Ideas" "Methods" "Ways of doing things" are not protected. Art is about ideas?

QUESTION: Do IP lawyers make the most of any other branch. Now, I know why!

Ann, are you wearing all-black in that one photo? Too Goth!

I don't understand contemporary, abstract art---if that's what we're viewing. I do like Caravaggio and Masaccio. Maybe I need to go to Europe?

Compliment: I adore the flooring. That deep brown hardwood, (looks to be), and those shiny white floors (is that parquet?). Those floors must be a dream come true to walk on, with heels. I wonder if they wax 'em every night to get the shine. I swear it looked like you could see your reflection in that one shiny one. You have to get a more direct picture of the deep brown of the hardwood! Unless, it's copyrighted!

Peace, Maxine

the_W said...

This reminds me of my recent experience at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. After the nice lady explained the museum's policy on photography, I went in search of something inside the building I could take a picture of. It took a while but I finally found an appropriate subject.

Maxine Weiss said...

W.----theoretically, couldn't someone, somewhere still getcha on a copyright infringement?

American Standard, or whoever...some photographer who photographs bathrooms for a living.....says you are cutting into his income....

Just thinking.

I'm glad I don't own a digital camera. My number 1 defense if anyone tries to accuse me. And, I live in LaLa land and a bunch of angry commercial photographers being put out of business....

Peace, Maxine

Rick Lee said...

This kind of issue is just sooo complicated anymore. Almost all museums have rules against photography of any kind in the gallery rooms, but some allow photography of the larger halls. Even most public buildings such as shopping malls etc have rules against "professional photography". Basically, if you look like a tourist you can snap pictures. But if you somehow look like a pro (carrying a big camera bag, setting up a tripod, etc) then a security guard will be all over you quickly. I'm a professional photographer, but I also blog photos that are mostly taken with a tiny little pocket camera... but sometimes I sell the photos taken with the little camera. The disticton between pro and amateur is getting more difficult to discern.

I often shoot pictures in stores and other indoor spaces for the blog. I'm conscious that these stores have rules against this but I flout them and I'm good at not getting caught. I really don't care about their rules.

Here's an interesting case that is tangentially related. I was invited by a local magazine publisher to take photos on the set of filming of a Warner Bros. movie on the campus of Marshall University. We got permission from the unit publicist and I shot for a couple of hours before he politely asked us to leave. It was fun and I got a lot of great stuff. Althouse linked to the post. I sent a few emails out to movie sites which also linked... and then it spread virally to lots of other movie sites. Even though extremely similar images are up on the local newspaper site and the university web site, I was asked by the WB publicist to remove my photos from the blog. Why? Apparently, the only difference was success. My photos were getting out into the wide world. When I was seen as just some flunky local guy, it was ok for me to snap away, but when the stuff got out worldwide, then suddenly it became a problem.

As Ann's case so brilliantly illustrates, the old distinctions between pro and amateur are blurring out of existence.

Rick Lee said...

Mary, I'm very conscious of invasion of privacy. I would never post a picture that hurt anyone, but when a store makes a rule about photography in their space, it's not about privacy, it's just about control. They want control over the images in their store. They have the right to demand that control, but I just don't care if they succeed at it or not. If I want to take a photo of a display of glassware at Target I'll just do it and not get caught. They want control but I don't really care if they can't completely have it. I'm not hurting anything and I'm getting some really cool images.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Rick. I hope you didn't take the pictures down!

Now that I think about it, I was asked by a couple people if I was a professional photographer. I don't think they were connected with the museum though. Anyway, I said no.

I really think people haven't adjusted to what digital photography has become in the last year or so, with so much archived on line, with creative commons licensing, etc. I've had my photos used in other people's cards and brochures, for example.

Mary said...

"Now, the museum authorities are expressing concern about this photography."

I agree that "professionals" indirectly making money off their "art" should be treated differently than the little guy whose posted photos are not uploaded much. "Success" and money-making means responsibility.

Some day, Rick Lee will get "caught" in a Target store, violating their rules. Then, store authorities will be expressing concern about this photography, like the museum officials above.

You go in their place, you should play by their rules. You disrespect the rules, you blow it for all the rest of us. Non-professionals and little guys.

Rick said: "I'm a professional photographer, but I also blog photos that are mostly taken with a tiny little pocket camera... but sometimes I sell the photos taken with the little camera. The disticton between pro and amateur is getting more difficult to discern. I often shoot pictures in stores and other indoor spaces for the blog. I'm conscious that these stores have rules against this but I flout them and I'm good at not getting caught. I really don't care about their rules."

Rick Lee said...

Ann... actually I did take the photos down, because my contact at the magazine (who got me access to the film set) still needed the good favor of the studio. I wasn't going to make a federal case out of it and hurt my friend.

Someday I'll get caught by Target?? I've been asked to stop taking pictures before... I just say "Oh, I'm sorry" and go on my way. It's not like they are going to wrestle me to the ground and seize my camera. It's just not that big a deal.

Mary said...

"I'll just do it and not get caught."

"I've been asked to stop taking pictures before... "

Wait, I thought you were bragging here on how good you were about flouting the silly rules? Now you say you have been asked to stop, yet continue. And you're a professional who sells these images? Hmm...

"The distiction between pro and amateur is getting more difficult to discern." lol and good luck! (It's a bit like getting in the habit of rolling stops, or running yellow lights -- that habit of flouting rules -- or slightly crossing the center line on tight corners when no other vehicles are around. Think about it a little; you'll get what I'm saying.)

Rick Lee said...

"Think about it a little; you'll get what I'm saying." I think we'd better drop this. I just thought about saying something that's not nice and Ann has a rule about that. That's one rule I do choose to follow. :-)

Maxine Weiss said...

Oh well, at Target, you can't take notes. I read, a couple of years ago, that a reporter was walking around writing little notes in a notebook, and one of the managers came and told him note-taking was not allowed.

I guess they think of manual note-taking along the lines of tape recording. Well, it is a form of recording.

What if you are just writing a shopping list?

Well, I guess their in-store video cameras would catch whatever was being jotted down.

Maybe Wal-Mart is more lenient?

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine: I think they are afraid of lawsuits, competitors, and bad publicity. They invite people on the premises to shop, and these rules are about detecting people who have some other purpose. They are afraid such folks will do them harm. But their being repressive makes shoppers feel bad.

Davefa said...

Thanks to the internet and the rapid spread of digital cameras, everything is public now and there isn't a damn thing anyone can do about it. Copyright law is vital, but protecting copyright in the face of widespread casual abuse is likewise impossible. It can be effective only among those who already believe in the sanctity of copyright. And the parameters of copyright law therefore need to be redefined to state what constitutes damaging use.