Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

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Rijksmuseum campaign on No Photography Allowed – some thoughts

Photo: Rijksmuseum.

Photo: Rijksmuseum.

The ongoing campaign at Rijksmuseum, banning photography (in a humorous way) and encouraging visitors to draw art, has caught the attention of media:

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam wants visitors to enjoy its collection of artwork the way it was appreciated in a pre-cellphone era, by leaving their devices and cameras at home. Through their #Startdrawing initiative, they’ve “banned” technology, encouraging people to bring their sketchbooks and draw the beautiful paintings, prints, and sculptures in front of them—as opposed to quickly recording it all on their phones.
My Modern Met

Rijksmuseum believes that media has devolved a visit to a museum into “a passive and superficial experience,” according to its website. “Visitors are easily distracted and do not truly experience beauty, magic and wonder. This is why the Rijksmuseum wants to help visitors discover and appreciate the beauty of art and history through drawing, so #startdrawing!
Huffington Post

An argument could be made supporting the claim that the curse of this generation is that in an effort to stay more connected, we are actually less connected than ever. As we busily doodle on our phones, we are missing the world around us and the present moment. Being so focused on our phones means we are distracted by our surrounds, by life as it passes us by.
SLR Lounge

So does this campaign achieve it’s goal? To encourage people to truly look at art? I am sure this will be a great success, by drawing attention to the art and the interaction with art. It’s a brilliant idea, in several ways. By adressing a much discussed topic of mobile phones, selfies, photography and museums, and by showing a different way of interacting with art.

However it is at the same time unfortunate to actually target people’s desire to take pictures in museums, a desire that obviously is very strong considering the amount of photos taken in museums every day. I am also afraid this will give support to anti-photography opinions.

To take pictures in museums, to walk around using the mobile phone, is one very important way of interacting with the museum. As I have looked into the Instagram photos taken by visitors at Nordiska museet it is clear that these photos are just one part of the personal Instagram feed. A feed that is in itself a narrative, the story of me. 

Depending on what kind of story the visitor wants to share with his or her audience, the photographic trail from the museum visit will look very different. Some take many pictures, some take one. Some put great attention to details, tell a story with the photos and sometimes include themselves through selfies, and others just take a picture of the building.

For museums it should be of great interest to further look into the Instagram feeds of their visitors, and into the photos taken and tagged at the museum. Which objects or exhibitions catch most attention of the visitors? How does the visitor include him or herself into the narrative? For the visitor’s own narrative is perhaps the most important aspect of the museum visit. So ask yourself: How does the museum fit into it?

The only story I am consistently interested in is the story of me, the one that I am “constantly writing, rewriting, editing and conspiring about.” It’s the one story that I am constantly tuned into all the time.
Sapient Nitro, India 

I think offering opportunities to interact with the museum in several different ways, like drawing the museum art, is a necessity. But don’t confuse visitors by removing their own tools for creating the story of me.




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How not to create a memorable museum experience #museweb

Skärmavbild 2015-08-12 kl. 09.44.45

This is NOT the cave that I visited, but a random French cave. Photo: Gilles Bonin, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA.

During the holidays this summer I visited a few museums in southern France and one of the pre historic caves in the region. Connected to this cave there is a small local museum. I will not explicitly point out which cave and which museum.

On this particular day we started by visiting the cave. At the entrance of the cave there was a sign indicating that photography was forbidden. Already here I seriously hesitated to enter though I had paid the entrance fee. The reason for the no photo policy was……copyright (!?). Confusion.

After a short walk we entered into a large, amazingly beautiful and impressive cave. Though an extensive light installation completely disguised the cave, not to mention loudspeakers suddenly filling the cave with Mozart’s Requiem (!). The guide assured us, slightly sarcastically, that the different species of bats living in the cave however seemed to endure the concert that played every time a group of visitors came by. In another cave further ahead there were more art installations, that were as well totally irrelevant to the historical and natural aspects of the cave.

I do appreciate art, but when the art becomes a reason for prohibiting photography in a pre historic cave, there is something terribly wrong. And again, the art did not, in any way whatsoever contribute to the understanding of the magnificent history of the cave, the people living there and the beauty of the environment.

Apart from the art, the no photo policy was what truly ruined my personal experience. Taking photographs and publishing them on social media is how I create my narrative. Many museum visitors visualize their visit and communicate their photos to a personal audience, as a way of creating a personal narrative. It is a way of remembering and understanding, even though the photograph in itself rarely materializes as a physical memory (apart from being looked at closely in the smartphone, held in the palm of the hand). But more importantly the photographs become a social glue in an ongoing conversation, to reassure and strengthen relationships in a community. It puts me in touch with the museum. And I am not even mentioning here the benefits of visitor photography to the museum. That is for another blog post.


After visiting the cave we visited the local history museum, which was displaying artifacts from the cave. Again, a no photo sign at the entrance. Watching rather sad showcases filled with arrowheads and beads without being able to take pictures, again limited my experience of amazing historical artifacts.

The point of this blog post is not to point out a singular tourist attraction. I believe the lack of understanding the role of photography in the visitor experience is widely spread and of course not limited to southern France. I am also very much aware of small museums lacking enough funding to create awesome experiences.

The point is that truly understanding the museum audiences as well as being able to take a step back and fully understand the museum experience, from an audience perspective, and meeting the needs of the audience, is something vital and also achievable without a large budget. Though in this and most other cases of inadequate museum experiences, I am positive that this problem is primarily the result of either poor digital competence within the management (which was probably not fully the case here as they did have a few interesting digital installations in the cave), or decisions driven by personal agendas.

As a museum professional I am of course trying to understand why, and analyze the consequences. I am sure I will visit the cave agin some day, but most probably choose another cave and museum to visit next time.