Taking pictures prohibited in museums

By Kehinde Temitope
Have you even wondered why visitors to our museum are prohibited from taking photographs in the galleries?

As an Antiquities protection officer at National Museum, Ile-Ife, it is my duty, in addition to protecting the museum properties and collections to point out to visitors, a notice at the corner of the museum, warning them not to take ‘photographs’ in the exhibition gallery.

‘Museum’ is a place where our cultural materials of historical, scientist monumental and aesthetic values are kept for protection, Education, research and enjoyment purpose. ICOM(2007) defined museum as a non-profit permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to public which acquires, conserves researches, communicates and exhibits, tangible and intangible heritage of humility and its environment for the purpose of study, education and enjoyment.

The restriction order was so important that the antiquity protection officers were asked to enforce compliance.

There were cases of over zealous protection officers and museum guides who seized the visitors’ cameras and ripped open the film clambers to destroy the images captured by tourists who violated the restriction order, and in the process damage the cameras.

Photographs are only allowed in the museum with official permission, for research or publications. However, reasons for the prohibition were not clear to many people (both museum staffs and visitors). The protection officers and museum attendants on duty were contented to say… ‘oga said no photography in the gallery’ when asked for reason why photography are not allowed in the gallery. None at that level ventured to investigate further to know the major reason behind the restriction, but in recent time the reasons for the no- photos policy became obvious.

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It was also revealed that the policy is not limited to museums in Nigeria but a worldwide phenomenon, for example, visitors cannot take photos in place like:

The Sistine chapel in Rome, The van Gogh museum in Amsterdam or inside Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home.

Although, New Yorks metropolitan museum of Art and Boston’s museum of fine Arts have changed their policies and now allow photographs in parts of their permanent collections. However, they typically ban all photograph in special exhibitions, which are often the main reason people are visiting.

Why no photograph in the museum Gallery? Research has revealed that no-photograph policy of the museum is anchored on five major factors as follows:-

  1. Protection of the museum objects against un-healthy light radiation:-

Camera flashes which emit intense light are believed to hurt paintings and the patina of delicate objects. Eliminating flashes, even inadvertent ones keeps paintings in pristine/unspoiled shape and reduced expenses restoration costs.

Uncontrolled lights hurts the museum objects especially paintings and textiles. Many of the works of arts on display in our galleries are hundred of years old, they can’t stand much exposure to blinding burst of light hundreds of times a day, hence the need for a ban.

  1. Improvement of the visitor(s) experience:-

Visitors who enjoy a museum visit are more likely to come back, join as members and recommend the museum to friends. It is hard to enjoy a painting or object on exhibition  in the gallery when people  are crowding in front posing for selfies, many of such people have mistakenly damaged valuable museum objects and caused a lot of discomfort to their fellow tourists and  other patrons. Therefore, restrictions of photography in the galleries encourage more visitors and ensures safety visit into the museum.

  1. Protection of revenue sources of the museum:-
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Prohibiting photographs in the museum Galleries do protects the revenue source of the museum by ensuring that the gift shop maintains a monopoly on selling museum reproductions, replicas and images.

If photograph is not allowed inside the museum or historic place, then the museum gift shops, books, posters and postcards are the only legitimate source of high quality images of a famous paint, statute or site.

Prevention of copyright violation

Security of museum

Banning photographs in the museum is believed to boost security by preventing thieves or terrorists from visually capturing and pinpointing weaknesses in security of museum both in alarm systems and surveillance cameras. Above all, cameras turn museums into tourist traps instead of places of reflection.

Having listed the justification for the ban of photography in the museums Gallery and the need for the enforcement of the ban, it is also important to educate museum Antiquity protection officers, Gallery staff and museum Education officers to be polite in discouraging the visitors from taking their cameras into the galleries to avoid a possible disagreement with the museum public especially at the festive period when museum records high volume of visitors. A dissatisfied visitor can destroy the image of the museum if not well educated and bring about visitors apathy and reduction in the number of visitors to that particular museum.

Here is a poser…

With the invention of sophisticated devices today, can museum adequately monitor and stop the invasion of camera into their galleries and storage areas? That shall form the bases of my next write up.

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Kehinde Temitope O. is the assistant Chief Protection Officer, National Museum, Ile-Ife


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