The group, Orsay Commons, started their protests in December and has made the excursions a monthly event — scheduling them on the first Sunday of every month, when admission is free. One of the protesters, blogger Bernard Hasquenoph, toldARTINFO France that this time there were fewer guards and that they reacted more passively. He also noticed a change in the number of signs forbidding photography: “until now there were a lot; we indicated that it was very ugly. We noticed that they put a lot of them away — there were not nearly as many as last month.”
Hasquenoph takes this as a portent of the group’s impending victory. “We think we have them over a barrel,” he said. “We will come every month. For their image, as they try to be modern and ‘with it’ in the Internet age, it’s completely contradictory and counterproductive. They will revisit it. It can’t go on, it’s ridiculous.”
With attention drawn to the no-photo rule, the museum’s comments book began to overflow with visitors’ aggrieved remarks, calling the policy “scandalous,” “harmful,” “backwards and counter-productive,” and “from another era.” One museum-goer, Serge Chaumier of Paris, wrote that the policy “creates an appalling atmosphere and encourages visitor passivity.”
With reduced funding and staff cuts, French museums are on the defensive, and many suspect a financial motive behind the policy, which was put into place last June. As one protester, Gaelle Kermen, wrote on her blog, “if this is to put reproductions of paintings on fridge magnets or mugs sold in the gift shop, then, really, I say no.”
But the Musée d’Orsay denied this, stating that “this policy has no commercial intent.” In a statement, the museum said that the rule was “linked to the increasing number of ‘arm’s-length’ photos with camera-phones,” adding that “reproductions of most of the works in the collection can be downloaded from the Web site.”
The government may get involved, if representative Patrick Beaudouin has his way. Back in June, he contacted culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, questioning “the legitimacy of forbidding the reproduction of works that are part of our public heritage by visitors who purchased their tickets.” He also asked whether this policy “could run counter to the goal of cultural democratization.” He is still awaiting the minister’s reply.
How have other museums handled the photography issue? After trying a similar no-photo policy in 2005, the Louvre abandoned it because it was too difficult for the guards to keep up with the frequent infractions. In a statement, the Louvre also said that “it was restrictive for the public and was confusing.” Photography is still not allowed in the Louvre’s temporary exhibition galleries for copyright reasons. Most of the works in the Musée d’Orsay are in the public domain.
Most European museums allow visitors to take photos as long as they do not use a flash, which could harm the artworks. Some are more strict, like Madrid’s Prado, which has forbidden all photography after having found that it was hard to prevent visitors from using the flash and that this sometimes led to arguments between museum-goers and security staff.
Other institutions encourage photography and have harnessed the power of the Internet to disseminate crowd-sourced images of their collections. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has aFlickr page to allow visitors to share their pictures, and the British Museum has a partnership withWikipedia to make images of its collections widely available. In France, the Château de Versaillesorganized a photo contest in connection with a show called “Versailles in Photographs, 1850-2010.” Exhibition organizers said that they were very impressed by the quality and originality of the photos they received.