Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014

(P02)

Museums and Visitor Photography

Location Stevenson Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2014 at 11:00

Convenor

Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert (Cyprus University of Technology)  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The proposed panel consists of papers that investigate visitor photography in museums. More specifically it examines how visitors with cameras behave inside museums, the kinds of photographs they produce, as well as the way they use and share the photographs outside the museum space.

Long Abstract

With the development of photographic technologies and mobile devices billions of photographs are produced yearly in museums throughout the world with the number rising year by year. While museum visitors accumulate personal photographs from museum visits, the kind of photographs they produce, how, and for what reasons, is largely understudied. Furthermore, with the help of online social networks and photo-sharing applications, vernacular photography has entered our economy of images dynamically and has a growing function to play in visually defining people and places. Since visitor photography can transfer the museum experience outside a museum's walls, it seems necessary to understand how it is used, shared, distributed or exhibited after a museum visit and even years later.

The proposed panel consists of papers that investigate visitor photography in museums. More specifically it examines how visitors with cameras behave inside museums, the kinds of photographs they produce, as well as the way they use and share the photographs outside the museum space. The panel aims at addressing some of the following key themes:

• museum visitor photography, experience and memory

• visitor photography and meaning

• visitor photography, performance and identity

• behaviour of visitors with cameras

• photography and sociability inside museums

• connecting with museum artefacts through photography

• photographic reproductions of museum artefacts by museum visitors and uses

• visitor photography and uses outside the museum space

• online photo-sharing applications and museum visitor photography

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"Museum Watching": The Art Museum Experience through Photography's Lens

Author: Elena Stylianou (European University Cyprus) email

Short Abstract

This paper will further investigate both artistic and vernacular photography in the art museum to discuss how photography offers new insights about looking at art in museums, and how digital photography used by visitors could currently expand - if not transform - the museum experience.

Long Abstract

In a series of works entitled Museum Watching (1950s -1999) Elliott Erwitt photographed people in museums. His photographs could function as documentation of the ways in which people respond to works of art and to the museum space. For instance, in one of his photographs from the MET (1988) he captured a little girl in the Egyptian collections. The girl stands next to four ancient sculptures, replicating their display and alignment by standing still, with her arms closely placed to her sides and staring at the distance. Erwitt here, has captured one of the multiple ways in which different museum visitors engage with works of art that are historically and culturally distant and equally inaccessible: through role-playing and humor. On the one hand, we can rarely say with certainty what the spectators in these photographs are looking at, or what they are thinking, or what they will remember after their visit. On the other hand, such photographs offer the possibility of re-considering museum visitation as one that could remain detached from the formal, expected, and conventional ways of engagement described, defined and sustained by many museums. Moreover, visitors' photographs available in various photo sharing online sites, that echo Erwitt's professional camera and experienced eye, similarly record people's museum experiences. This paper will further investigate both artistic and vernacular photography in the art museum to discuss how photography offers new insights about looking at art in museums, and how digital photography used by visitors could currently expand - if not transform - the museum experience.

Budding Photographers: Young Children's Use of Digital Cameras in a Museum

Author: Elee Kirk (University of Leicester) email

Short Abstract

Young children took part in research that used their digital photographs of a family visit to a natural history museum. This paper explores their photographic practice, and the ways in which the camera impacted upon their museum experience.

Long Abstract

In 2011, 32 children aged four and five years took part in research investigating their experiences in a UK natural history museum. Children visiting the museum with their families were given a digital camera, asked to photograph things that they liked or found interesting, and were then interviewed about their photographs. This visual methodology, the resulting 1,597 photographs, and the children's own words, have revealed many aspects of their museum experience, from social negotiations to coming face-to-face with dinosaurs.

It was also clear from the research that there was something interesting in the way the children related to the camera. This paper firstly proposes that the success of this methodology results from allowing children to mirror adult behaviour in the museum, taking photographs and then using them to remember and discuss the visit. Secondly, the paper discusses what the research has revealed about children's budding photographic skills, and their adoption of photographic behaviours and techniques, including framing, portraits and even selfies. Thirdly, it explores the impact of the camera on the children's museum visit more broadly, including on their dealings with family members, and possible positive or detrimental impacts on their engagement with museum objects.

Cameras are an increasingly important tool in educational research with young children. The success of the above research project suggests that the existing culture of tourist photography in museums makes this a particularly useful and interesting methodological tool in this setting, with much potential for further exploration.

Visitor Photography in Museums: Art Experience, Memory and Identity

Author: Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert (Cyprus University of Technology) email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the relationship between visitor photography, art experience and memory within the framework of production, consumption and identity construction. To do so, it examines visitor photography of the 'Mona Lisa' in the Louvre.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates the relationship between visitor photography, art experience and memory within the framework of production, consumption and identity construction. More specifically, it uses an extremely popular artwork within a major museum - the 'Mona Lisa' in the Louvre - to explore the following questions: Why do people photograph works of art in museums? Why don't they just buy a postcard reproduction? What exactly do visitors photograph? How are these photographs subsequently used (or not used) in everyday life? What do they mean?

The relationship between museum visitors, art experience and photography is a complex one and largely understudied. This study uses two research methodologies to answer the research questions: (a) user-generated content (photographs and comments) extracted from an online photo sharing application (Flickr) and (b) 10 semi-structured interviews with tourists who have visited and photographed the Mona Lisa.

The research results show that photography becomes a tool that builds expectations (through mass reproduced images of an artwork), forms the experience (through active visitor photography) and aids reflection and the construction of self-identities (through viewing and sharing personal photographs). Evidence supports the notion that museum visitors with cameras become increasingly more creative and self-reflecting. Furthermore, the photographs they produce function as semiotic markers of a 'here and there', restore authenticity to a popular tourist experience ('I was there') and function as repositories for memory that unavoidably inform self-identities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.