Expect an explosion of pictures of the David, standing tall, very tall, at the end of a fancy corridor of sorts (lined with other Michelangelos, the “Bound Slaves”) all over t’internet soon. Plans are afoot–might already be in place, actually–for the Accademia in Florence to relax its rules on photography and let its visitors freely take photos of the David.
The wisdom behind this is twofold, perhaps three: 1) the powers that be, including the Accademia’s director Angelo Tartuferi, finally accept that taking a photo of David doesn’t harm it physically in any way, shape or form (although there’s still going to be a ban on flash!); 2) they’ve latched onto the currently trending idea that photos of art/galleries/museums splashed all over social media can actually have a positive effect, getting people interested in art and ultimately increasing footfall, which is, really, the be-all and end-all; and 3) although unsaid, it will just make visiting the Accademia a bit more pleasant for all involved, with less guards exasperatingly screaming “No Foto!”, and fewer bereft, stressed-out-looking sneaky snappers running scared of being berated for their “gross misdemeanors”.
I was one of those sneaky snappers–that’s my pic at the top of the post – success for me!–and I must say that the atmosphere in there was pretty grim. On arrival you’re subjected airport-stylee security. And once inside things barely improve – caliber of artworks notwithstanding. The attendants behaved as if taking a photo of David really is the most reprehensible crime of all time, and the eager tourist spends most of his/her time dodging the attendants’ glances, finger poised to get that much-coveted memento of their trip to visit “il gigante”.
So all this is, I think, good news. And other museums and galleries, including those closer to home, are making similar moves. Just recently, our very own Barber Institute has decided that photos can be taken freely inside its galleries. And if I had to put a bet on it, I’d say we can expect more institutions to follow suit very soon. In the Digital Age in which we live, more and more cultural institutions will, I think, come to realise that iPhones and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. can have positive uses.
But I guess that you could also debate the merits of implementing a photography free-for-all inside galleries. Such a policy can, I suppose, have negative or else strange consequences.
Perhaps, for example, we can expect to hear more stories like the one that recently broke about the Accademia and Italy’s Culture Department getting into a twist about the kinds of uses people put their images of David to. Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, lashed out at American gunmaker ArmaLite, whose new ad campaign features David brandishing a massive rifle (inexplicably the image has been modified to cover David‘s genitals with a fig leaf… apparently it’s OK to promote gun ownership, but it’s definitely not OK to show a penis… eh?) .Franceschini’s department warned ArmaLite not to run the campaign, which it deemed as being offensive and an affront to Italian cultural heritage. So photographs may not physically harm the David, but is there a real threat of cultural damage? Of defaming a country’s heritage?
And it’s fair to be a bit anxious about the new rules inducing the “Mona Lisa effect”. Legions of people flock to Paris every year to go to the Louvre, which allows photography wholesale, and proceed to follow the “La Joconde” signs. 15 minutes later, they end end up having to wrestle their way through a jostling crowd (all ignorant to the other ace art they pass by swiftly!), pressing forward, camera-first, to photograph Lisa Gherardini (and perhaps a cheeky “Mona Lisa selfie” as well), before spinning on their heels for the café. Again, this doesn’t really harm the physical integrity of the painting, but it makes life hard for those who want to actually look at it with their eyes instead of through a lens–and if everyone did that, perhaps more would realise that Leonardo’s portrait isn’t the most amazing thing they’ve ever clapped eyes on, after all, and certainly isn’t the most amazing thing there is to see in the Louvre.
… Coincidentally, the Mona Lisa has also been used to advertise guns (this time by an Italian firm):