"Museum Watching": The Art Museum Experience through Photography's Lens
Elena Stylianou (European University Cyprus)
Paper 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.
Paper 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.
Museums and Visitor Photography