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Museum Selfies and Photographs

Updated: May 15, 2019

As some of you know I have an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins. We spent a lot of time discussing care of collections, exhibition design, and the best ways to make sure the art and public were safe. Having interned at a small museum and having visited museums here and in Europe, I am always horrified when I read an article like this: Four girls knocked over a temporary wall in their quest to take selfies in front of Salvador Dali and Francisco Goya works hanging on it. This is not the first or last time this has happened.

In Lisbon, Portugal, a man climbed up the outside of a building to take a picture of himself with a 128 year old statue and knocked it over in the process. You can read more here: . The list goes on and on; valuable works are being destroyed on a fairly regular basis because museum visitors and tourists want to have their picture taken with works of art.

I have never been a “selfie” taker. I do however take pictures at museums. The reason I take pictures is so that I can look at the works again, study them and look for nuances I hadn’t picked up in the “moment” of seeing. When I am at a museum I do spend time reading labels and contemplating the work. It is always nice when the museum conveniently puts a bench in front of your favorite work of art.

I am however torn about my picture taking. It makes me wonder sometimes if I am living through the lens of the camera in my phone too much. I question my own engagement with the works when I take pictures, even though I know that I will go back to them and look at them with a fresh eye. This makes me wonder about others and their motives for taking photographs in museums.

Are we taking photos of famous works of art because as they say “it didn’t happen if there is no proof”? Are we now in age where unless you document every aspect of your life it isn’t actually real? This brings me back to the museum selfie. It’s one thing to just snap photos of all the “famous” work at The Museum of Modern Art or The Metropolitan Museum of Art but what is that drives people to photograph themselves in front of these works?

I unfortunately do not have the answer to these questions. What I do know is this “selfie” craze does put valuable works of art in danger. It also distracts from the entire reason to go to a museum - to see and engage with fabulous works of art from all over the world created by some of the most historically famous names in the art world. Personally, I enjoy the work in its environment, really look at it and think about – then I get my camera out.

I’ve shared some of my favorite museum moments in the photo gallery.

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