"For the rest, the Board would take its time deciding, after studying the results", said Aggy
Lerolle of the initial ban. And apparently, they are still studying, as
no extension beyond the Denon Wing has been decided. Thus the rest of the Museum is open
to picture taking, with an enticement not to use flashes.
Is Such a Restriction Legal?
Perfectly legal. Of course, the works in the
Louvre are all in the public domain, and so the decision to allow or
forbid photos is not in the hands of any heirs, as is the case in museums
of contemporary art. No heir to Da Vinci or Veronese can have a say in
banning the photographs by visitors. The Louvre Museum itself can ban the
activity of taking photos. (As for private collections exhibited in the
Louvre, there appears to be a copyright invoked by the lenders, and photos
are almost always forbidden.)
The broader question is:
Does humanity have the right to take photos (with or without flashes)
of monuments of world culture? If they are outdoors, the question does
not come up. The "heritage of humanity" buildings, such as
Angkor Wat, or the Parthenon, are photographable, even for professional
use. Unesco—somewhat surprised by my question—sees no legal right to ban photographs of
these treasures on the grounds of copyright law, but it does concede the right
of the owner of a piece of art—the Louvre owns the Mona Lisa, for
instance – to prevent photos inside a building, if the building is a
museum, and the artwork is owned by the museum. However, if permission is
granted to photograph, then the museum has no copyright since the artwork
is in the public domain.
The officious reason for the ban is therefore to
ensure the proper viewing and studying of the artwork without disturbance
and hindrance. A personal photo is not considered a necessary vehicle of
art appreciation and study, given that the entire collection of the Louvre
is available on the Web and is downloadable. This is the Louvre’s
thinking, and this is said quite officially. The Louvre is
consistent in its educational approach: it was pratically the first large
cultural institution in France to put itself on the Web ten years ago.
However the Louvre adminstration allows
professional photos, and even filming, on a case-by-case applications
basis. There are fees for commercial endeavors. Reasonable educational and
journalistic requests are granted, and range in price from nothing to a
few hundreds euros. Filming rights are obviously charged : apart from
The Da Vinci Code movie, a less famous French
, told the tale of the ghost of the Louvre. Once again,
the Louvre does not hold copyright of its art, and so a photo or film can
be exploited commercially without royalties going to the Louvre. So to
conclude, it is fair to say the Louvre has no monetary goals in banning or
allowing photos by the masses. The ban is against the act of
photographing, not the image produced.
Are Photos Truly
The first day of the ban, banners were put up at
the feet of the Winged Nike of Samothrace, a statue of great
renown and the first one encountered on the way to the Mona Lisa
. Two guards tried to dissuade picture-takers; by late afternoon they were
pooped out and told CK that people did not really know they were not
allowed to flash away. Same story at the Mona Lisa. One month
later, the Mona Lisa had a guard in front of it
facing the public, and a "no photos" banner placed 5 meters from the painting.
The ban had reduced the photographing by at least 80% from the pre-ban
The guards, exhausted
in the early days, have now learned to live with the ban.
After six months, the guards gave up enforcing a ban around the Winged
Nike of Samothace, but beyond the statue, there are banners with
symbols of cameras that are crossed out. By the time one reaches the
Mona Lisa , the once-incessant flashing
is altogether gone—a real relief to those who would appreciate the work. (A rare cheater holds up a
mobile phone camera over his head, in a puzzling attempt to fool the
guards, and bring home a substandard photo of a sea of heads and an out of
focus Mona Lisa
The reader who thinks that the flash is not a
bother need only experience the galling disruption in front of each work, to realize that unrestricted
touristic photographing is a scourge. Compare with the Winged Nike which has been
handed back to the flashes, or the Venus de Milo
, which is not yet off-limits to cameras.
The free for all there is like for a movie star… who never
Or consider Hammurabi’s Codex
, where flashes go off from all angles of
this monolith, taken not by Mesopotamian experts, but by tourists taking pictures of
all the artifacts highlighted in a guide—or worse still, tourists shooting any imposing item
that other people are shooting! An archaeology enthusiast who would examine the back
of the Hammurabi Codex
monolith is constantly flashed in the face by those photographing around in the
Worst of all are those who have themselves
photographed in pairs in front of the piece of art, looking at the public
in the face! They block the artwork, you have them staring in your
direction, you get their flash, and then other people follow suit, as if they were posing in front of
the Grand Canyon. With 45,000 visitors a day at the height of the
season, you have but the first hour from opening time to avoid the
Is Photography Truly Damaging to the
the ban on flashing a technical necessity? Not really. Flashes do not
harm statuary, but can eventually harm canvas and frescos—although some curators who
have conducted tests suspect that the damage may be much less
than is widely thought. Still, no museum authority would wish to take
the risk of possibly discoloring a painting.
The Louvre’s administration is a more people-friendly
place than before. Henri Loyrette, the president and CEO of the Louvre
Museum, is open to corporate sponsors, both French and foreign. He wishes to
extend signing in English "and in Spanish", he adds. To be
fair, there are information boards, large as trays, systematically and
withtout fail in French, English, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, in all rooms of the museum.
These are eroding the all-French, Ministry of Culture feel of the Louvre. The Amis du
Louvre, and the American Friends of the Louvre, are two distinct
associations that speak their minds to the Louvre, though not
systematically. Neither was consulted on the photo decision, but both told
CK they thought that if the partial ban improved visiting conditions, then
they were definitely in favor.
What About the Bottom
From a purely monetary point of view, the total banning of
photos is no loss to the Museum coffers. The budget was
not altered, however exhausting the guards found their new duties. The sales
of postcards and reproductions may have gotten a boost. The improved
conditions of a visit by any cultutrally oriented person would be
well worth the trade-off in lost photo opportunities of oneself in front of
Napoleon crowning Josephine.
Would fewer tourists be likely to visit with the
ban? No such reaction has been noticed. The amount of visitors continues
to soar and 2006 looks likes it will be no exception. The reputation of
excellence of the Louvre has not been touched, and no one is accusing the
Museum of anti-tourist snobbery. The French erudites are still there.
Foreign art lovers would certainly have nothing to complain about. Nor
would the archeological types. The Mona Lisa
looks more authentic without someone posing in front of her under a
hail of flashes.
Back to Louvre Camera Ban,
Harold Hyman is a Franco-American journalist,
based in Paris, specializing in foreign affairs. He has worked for Radio
France Internationale, Courrier International, and Radio Classique (news
section), and now works for BFM-TV.