Enough With the Selfies; Look at the Art
by Dereck Stafford Mangus
Published December 11 in Hyperallergic
Excerpt: Guarding at several art museums over the past two decades, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in the way many people commemorate their visits with photography. More and more museumgoers are using individual artworks as cool things to be photographed next to. Increasingly, museum visitors are less interested in appreciating the art on display, and more invested in finding pretty objects to accompany their selfies. It’s as though history simply becomes the background to their own portraits. “Look — that’s me next to [insert famous masterpiece]!”
This behavioral turn corresponds to the rapid developments in photography since the turn of the century. In the 20-plus years since I began guarding at museums, photography has become: digital, allowing for instant image production; a commonplace feature on smartphones and other devices; and ubiquitous via social media. When I began my career as a guard at Harvard Art Museums in 2001, visitors wishing to take photographs had to sign a special form at the front desk and wear a badge with a camera logo. Permission was never denied, and though people probably didn’t read the whole document, which outlined the rules of taking pictures in the galleries (no flash, video, or heavy equipment), it was an attempt to deter willy-nilly photogs.