Gates – meet the Barbarians

I took this photo in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris this weekend:

musee_dorsee

Yes, you’re seeing correctly. It’s a man taking a photo of a Cézanne.

This idiot went round taking a photograph of all the pictures in the gallery.

That would be irritating enough, but EVERYONE was at it. Italian teenagers waving their phones around taking snaps of masterpieces by Degas. Middle aged men with their poncey Pentax’s and Nikons photographing Picassos like they were doing something Really Important (see photo above). Japanese photographing whatever. Worst of all, some idiot barging in front of me with his camera to take a picture or Renoir’s Le Moulin de la Galette, WITH A FLASH.

WHAT ON EARTH DO THEY THINK THEY’RE DOING?

And why aren’t the somnabulant room stewards doing anything about it?

It’s utterly unbelievable, and ruined my visit there (and to the Louvre, where it’s exactly the same story. You can’t even see the Mona Lisa for all the flash photography, so I didn’t even bother. I assume the glass it sits behind is polarising and protects from the flashes…?)

Because I need to get it out of my system, I shall rant some more. Apologies, but it made my blood boil, so here goes…

To take a photo of a painting is to so completely miss the point, I can scarcely even believe I need to write the following.

– these idiots get in the way. If I’m trying to look at a painting, the last thing I need is flashes going off, the tinny sound of camera phones’ shutter noise, and the general sense that I’m in the way because I actually want to look at a painting.

– these people are missing the point of seeing a masterpiece in the flesh. We’re all seen reproductions in books, on the web, on telly, of these pictures. Now is your chance to see it for real. To see the details those photos miss out. To see the scale of the painting, the texture of the brush strokes, the overall effect of the physical presence of the painting. Why take a picture of something when ‘pictures’ of it are totally available. Buy the catalogue if you want a memory of the visit. But if you’re standing in front of a Degas, for fuck’s sake LOOK at it, don’t take a photograph of it. It just reveals your ignorance. And taking a picture of the painting and then photographing the label to remind you what it is just compounds your ignorance.

– It’s summarises the worst,  most tedious, aspect of modern tourism – namely, the trophy hunting. The idea that it’s important to say you’ve ‘done’ the pyramids, ‘done’ the leaning tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, as some kind of tokens of your worldliness. In a sense, that’s fine – those objects are worth seeing, they are fascinating. (But of course they are by no means the only interesting things in the world, they just happen to be famous, which is enough for some people.)  But to do the same to a work of art? To take a picture of a Cezanne to say you were there? To show to your friends and say ‘Look! here’s a picture of a Lautrec I took while I was in the Musée D’Orsay? ‘.  They’re not appreciating the artistry of the work, they’re appreciating the fame of the artwork, because fame and celebrity is pretty much all that counts these days apparently.

– So, It’s disrespectful to the art, to the purpose of it, and it’s a damn shame it appears to be allowed in these museums. Perhaps they think it’s better not impose rules so as not to make art seem ‘elitist’, or some other misguided twattery. It’s not. There are some objective truths here: art is to be looked at, contemplated, and responded to. It just shouldn’t be photographed continuously by morons. That’s just a fact.

– Oh, and I’m no expect, but surely flash photography is not very good for the ongoing preservation of masterpieces already 150 years old?

I can think of a couple of tiny exceptions to this rule. Maybe you are so totally moved by a picture that some small reminder of it is absolutely necessary, and you know you can’t a get a picture of it any other way. Maybe you are an artist yourself and have a valid artistic reason to do it.  Even so, self restraint and respect for other visitors should still rule the day. Make an appointment to photograph it out of hours if you’re serious. If you’re not (and absolutely 110% of the visitors that day weren’t) – please go and be ignorant somewhere else.

To end on a small positive, I was very heartened to see a few groups of students copying paintings in pencil/pastels. If only the philistines had an ounce of that respect and passion for these works of art, and were also prepared to put some work in to understand it, they might actually gain something more from their visit than a small crappy blurry cameraphone picture.

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