Visitor Photography in Museums: Art Experience, Memory and Identity
Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert (Cyprus University of Technology)
Paper 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.
Paper 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.
Museums and Visitor Photography