Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Cameras are not permitted

Yesterday Ken and I went to the Body Worlds exhibition at Union Station. The experience was fascinating, and the displays provided excellent photo opportunities. Except for one thing:

Cameras were not permitted in the exhibition.

The online FAQ says: “Pictures taken with small devices, such as cell phones, are generally permitted. Commercial reproductions of images is not permitted. For the privacy of guests and out of respect to the donors to the Institute of Plastination, photography that becomes distracting or that causes disruption will be restricted at our discretion. Use of tripods, lighting, flash and other bulky equipment is prohibited.” Yet when we arrived at the entrance we were told that camera use was prohibited. We could take pictures with our phones but not our SLRs.

Flash and tripod prohibitions are fairly standard, so those of us who like to photograph in museums and similar display spaces have learned how to work with often less than ideal light. The rule against commercial use is also easy to respect. I completely understand the need for a policy allowing staff to remove a photographer (or anyone else, really) who is creating a disruption.

The only other prohibited item is “other bulky equipment.” If that’s meant to be a blanket rule against all cameras other than cell phones, then perhaps the four word title of this blog post would have been a better choice of phrasing for the FAQ.

As a photography teacher I favor activities that allow me to take pictures. I thought this would be one. If the web site clearly announced the policy, I would probably still have gone, leaving my camera at home rather than dragging it uselessly around the galleries. The anger caused by the unexpected prohibition was likewise fairly trivial.

The big problem is that the exhibits would have made really great photos. For example, consider the picture at the top of this post. This display proved to be photogenic, as one might expect from a human form – however eviscerated – permanently holding a dramatic pose. The glass around the displays provided some good reflections, and the oversized photo on the wall adds another interesting element.

This is close to being a good photo. But look how blown out the highlights are. Even Photoshop couldn’t do much to even out the tones. The more precise control possible with an SLR and RAW format files might well have taken this photo all the way to real quality.

Here are few more “nearly there” photos:

Plus the shot I used for the 365 blog.

This experience saddened me. These exhibits are truly fascinating, and I would have liked to create photos worthy of the occasion. Rules like this strike me as arbitrary, unnecessary and counterproductive.