Museums and modernity

I’ve been on Flickr since, oooh, at least early 2004 and one thing I’ve noticed is the different way different cultural organisations are responding to the web 2.0 channels.

Flickr allows users of museums and galleries to create their own virtual tours of the exhibitions, or to pool their images to make a large mosaic of the place. Not just the exhibits but also the structures. Some organisations run flickr groups in order to create exhibits and events: the Tate‘s How We Are Now and the National Maritime‘s Beside the Seaside.  And some are also using it as a means to make their archives available: the National Maritime again, and the Library of Congress. Some also turn a blind eye to infringements of the on-site photography rules (I know at least one Tate employee knows about Tate Galleries for example).

What has really impressed me today is the Victoria & Albert‘s decision to actively engage and encourage visitors to take photos not just of the structure of the museum but of the exhibits.  Their flickr group includes themes and effective treasure hunts which actively want people to take photos of their treasures.

I’m not a fan of people who take photos instead of looking at exhibits, especially if they, say, use flash photography in rooms with deliberately lowered light levels. Some woman at Versailles walked into a room that was dimmed to protect an ancient tapestry and fired off a bunch of shots. The shots tend to be rubbish anyway, and the flashes incrementally damage the very objects you’ve come to admire. It’s annoying, and museums and galleries are right to restrict photography when necessary. The Andy Warhol exhibition at the Galeries Nationales, for example, were ruthless in enforcing a photography ban. Buy a postcard, people. Or at least look at the actual object whilst you’re in front of it.

Anyway, I’m delighted that one of my favourite museums – and one whose temporary exhibitions like Modernism and  Cold War Modern often cause me to get over-excited, over-whelmed and footsore – is embracing the idea of a virtual, user-built, museum. Their flickr group is a delight and well worth visiting if you can’t make South Ken regularly.

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