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The problems of photography in the New Acropolis Museum

In the old Acropolis Museum located actually on the Acropolis itself, I never had any problems taking photographs. Within the New Acropolis Museum however, whilst I took many pictures while the building was under construction, I’ve had great difficulty in taking any pictures within the building since the exhibits were in place. Even at the opening in 2009, although people (only a very limited number of invited guests) were allowed to take photos in the lower levels of the building, numerous staff were making sure that no one took photos inside the Parthenon Gallery.

Whilst I can understand that museums make money from selling reproduction rights to items in their collections, I can not see how stopping all photography (when the general tradition in Greece is for museums to allow it) is a move that benefits anyone. In many cases, photographs would have acted as an advert for the museum. The building has already been published in numerous newspapers & magazines, so there is now no secret behind the appearance of the interior (which could have been argued as a reason prior to its opening).

The Times Blogs [1]

August 03, 2010
How much does a picture of the Parthenon cost?

How can we keep the Greek economy afloat? Well, one answer is by asking for permission to reproduce pictures from Greek museums.

Just recently I produced a new edition of my Parthenon book, brought up to date with a new chapter on the new Acropolis Museum (plus all the to-ing and fro-ing about the Elgin Marbles in the years since the first edition came out).

I am quite a fan of the inside of the new Museum, and so wanted to illustrate it in my book. Just a couple of weeks after the museum opened, the husband visited and took some photos. It turned out to be a small window of opportunity — within a few days, photography was banned through all the Museum except the Parthenon Gallery; a few weeks after that the whole Museum was a no-go zone to cameras.

Anyway, I had a nice picture of the frieze as displayed in Athens, taken by the husband, which I wanted to reproduce in my book. My publishers did the proper thing and wrote to the Museum, explaining that we had a picture to reproduce, and asking what the fee would be .. for black and white, inside image, world rights, with a print run of 7500 (well let’s hope we need more, but that is the current number).

What do you guess it was?

It was 400 euros (plus any costs of transfer to their bank — another £40 or so).

For a picture taken by me (well by the husband), for a black and white picture that was in effect advertising their Museum — in a relatively academic publication. This was, the email explained, the amount set by the 10th meeting of the Museum board, on 16.11. 2009 (just in case we wondered).

The publishers wrote with a ‘surely some mistake’ letter, but the firm answer came back that (unless we could promise that it would not be distributed in more than 10 countries) that was the fee. No arguing.

Well, we paid up — partly because I didn’t want to make it difficult for the husband, who depends on the Greek Archaeological Services more than I do. But at that rate, imagine needing four or five pictures. The fee (and it is just for the rights to a picture of the Museum, remember, no effort required at all by the Museum itself) would have been beyond what was viable even for an academic-commercial publisher. It is simply a money making exercise, at the expense of freedom of information, academic discusion and the promotion of Greek culture.

I don’t for a minute imagine that museums should give their intellectual property away for free (though I would be pleased if they did). But 400 euros is surely shooting yourself in the foot.

So how does this compare to the British Museum, you must be wondering. Well,for a start, in the BM visitors can take photographs of the Elgin Marbles (unlike the ban in the Acropolis Museum). If you want to publish them, then the reproductions rights are free up to a print run of 4000, and from 4000-25,000 the cost would be £116 — a lot less than the 400 euros.

I hope that I might have got some of the details of this wrong, but I don’t think so — and there is a moral here. If the Parthenon marbles are a masterpiece of world art, an inheritance of us all, well better order your pictures from the ones in London — whether or not they should be there!