Experiencing Museums Through a Camera Frame
With a main purpose to share ideas, museums must continually accommodate for changing technology – like the prevalence of photography. Visitors in your spaces are taking more pictures: of the objects on display, of each other, and of themselves.
This phenomenon may leave some museum professionals baffled or frustrated. Too much picture-taking can be a danger to other visitors or the objects themselves and can interfere with how people engage with the space and ideas presented.
Full disclosure – I am fully pro-selfie and picture-taking. Just because we see the world through a camera frame more often now isn’t inherently a bad thing.
So, if photography is going to happen, it benefits museums to think of ways to accommodate and challenge this instinct into something productive.
3 Reasons Visitors Photograph Museums
Consider why your visitors want to take pictures. Is it to document that they were in your space? To remember a key fact or object later? Or is the object itself beautiful and they want to participate by creating their own art with it?
Document Their Visit
This has become common practice for all generations. I know I review my Instagram feed at the end of every year to reflect on experiences and memories. A public journal – but personal documentation all the same.
Remember a Key Fact or Object
Phones and cameras can be great tools for holding onto information you want to remember. If an object label is particularly interesting or poignant, I always like to snap a pic.
Make Their Own Art From What’s Around Them
One could argue, that by documenting life, we are trying to make some sense and ascribe some meaning to it. Exploring objects through a frame canlead to a more intimate experience and a way for visitors to exercise their own creativity.
3 Ideas to Engage with Those Visitors
One thing is absolute, with technology changing at the pace it is and cameras being integrated even more into our daily life, visitors in your spaces will want to take pictures. The problem then becomes how to best engage these visitors and ensure the safety of other guests and objects.
X Marks the Spot:
Designate a spot in the gallery for the best photo or selfie. This can be especially useful if the safety of your objects may be violated by a guest’s attempt to get the perfect pic. Show them exactly where to stand for the best photo and optimal safety. This may also help visitors to put their camera down after snapping to experience the rest of the space.
Scavenger hunts are great ways for kids and adults alike to explore your space. Can you add an element of photo-taking that to connect objects together and promote observation beforetaking a picture.
Moments of Silence:
How can we advocate for really looking at what is around us? The need to document – and our fast-paced lives – do not lend themselves to quiet observation. Think about how to help people linger after they take their photo. Is there language or signage you could incorporate into the space? How can in-gallery staff and volunteers encourage this? For future spaces, are there layout changes that might motivate a slower pace; like more seating?
A Visitor’s Experience Exists Within and Beyond the Camera Frame
Why do people feel the need to photograph all their experiences? Rise of social media and the need to present a life well-lived are contributing factors to this action, for sure. But I believe there are also genuine impulses to explore the world around us by framing it and snapping a pic. It’s worth taking the time to think about how to engage with these impulses in museum spaces instead of ignoring or dismissing them.