Friday, September 11, 2009

Pictures Steal Your Soul, Turn You to Bronze.


A semi-public institution that houses rare and delicate material has a problem with people taking pictures inside the building. Their collection, it seems, is light sensitive. Flash could hasten the erosion of their stuff. So they completely ban photography in their space.

But we live in the age of cell phone cameras, TwitPic, Flickr and Facebook. Images are part of our every day life, and we (as a society) snap them constantly.

So, should the institution allow people to take pictures - without flash? Or do you prohibit anyone from taking any images, assuming that many people don't know how to turn their flash off?

My immediate thought is this: you can't control people. Really. You can tell them not to shoot images, and they still will. It's like telling them they can't drive faster than 55 mph. Or don't walk on the grass. Or don't take pictures of the Sistine Chapel.

People will continue to take pictures. So, what can you control?

What about being proactive, creating easily accessible images (with water-stamps) that people can view online or purchase in the gift shop (perhaps in book form)? They could be revenue generators for the institution. People would be able to grab the images online and use them wherever they want but so what? The institution's mission is to serve the public, right?

If people can see the place online, some might ask, "Why would they want to visit?" I'd answer, I've seen the Eiffel Tower a million times on magazine covers and in my friends' vacation snaps. And I still want to go there. In fact, the pics make me want to go even more.

The institution could continue the "no photography" policy (knowing full well that they don't have the staffing to police the place). People will still snap images, for sure, but they may not if they know the online database is there and free.

Ah, free. That could be a catch. This interests me as it relates to the dawn of journalism on the Internet. Back in the early 1990's, people put their content online for free. Now, they can't get anyone to pay for it. This hypothetical institution needs revenue, and images and video could be a potential source.

The reality is that there will always be free images online. So why not be the original source, and brand them in such a way that the images further market the institution?

When it comes to professional photographers or video crews, well, I'm thinking they are a case-by-case kind of thing.

These are simply my preliminary thoughts, without support or data about how other institutions handle photography. But I think the giant loophole will always be the Internet, and the free flow of information that exists there. You can't stop it. So you might as well adopt it and use it to your advantage.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is good--you've got several of the big ideas at play here. There are practical considerations too. Paying for the "branding campaign" is one. Defining the brand is another--which images are most appropriate? what do they convey about the place? how do they support its broadest mission? Perhaps your semi-public institution should stage a periodic contest during which the public is temporarily allowed to photograph/video/etc. the collections--best pics become part of the brand package...