Oh the selfie stick. Either you love it or hate it. Want one or want to break one. It’s a hot topic these days and places are beginning to ban them. Sure, we see “no photos” signs here and there around some tourist attractions but now places like Disneyland and Lollapalooza are banning the selfie stick due to the onslaught of flailing sticks and flying iPhones, which seem to be quite the trend these days. Victoria’s Butchart Gardens has recently also become part of the no selfie zone! The article can be read here: Butchart Gardens bans the selfie stick.
The article and Butchart Garden’s decision came to my attention when someone posted it in the BC Museums Associations Facebook page, which I am part of and regularly check. I focused my university graduating project research on technology and museum culture and at what point does technology help or hinder the visitors experience. It is really cool to see this type of thing coming into play and being discussed. I was instantly very pleased to read about the selfie stick ban as it reminded me of a recent experience in Florence, Italy, at the Uffizi Gallery.
Let me set the scene:
Four years ago, I went to Florence for the summer where I studied Art History in a Lifestyles of Renaissance Florence class. Stendhal syndrome hit me hard. I fell completely head over heels in love with Florence and solidified my love of Renaissance art as well as my desire to work in a museum. Fast forward four years later to fall 2016 when I had the chance to go back to Florence for two whole weeks. I could not wait to step back inside the museums and galleries, not to mention eat the pasta and drink the wine. Upon entering the Uffizi gallery my heart was simply racing as I made my way up the grand staircase to the top floor. As I started to explore the gallery rooms which line the main corridors something became clear: a lot of people were taking pictures. Flashes were going, clicks could be heard and most of all selfie sticks were being flung about left, right and centre. I found myself ducking and weaving out of the way of flying iPhones, narrowly escaping being hit several times. Masterpieces were swarmed with photo-hungry people snapping on rapid-fire in hopes of getting a good one. It appeared people were looking at the art more so through their phone or camera lens than through their own eyes. A friend I was with was standing looking at a sculpture when a lady asked her to move so she could take a photo. The lady took her photo and walked away without even looking at the piece besides through the lens. To be honest it baffled me. It felt like people were there to say they went to the world-famous Uffizi and have the photos to prove it. The amount of selfie sticks and photos being taken increased incredibly in the four years since I visited the gallery last. The physical experience of being in the presence of these masterpieces becomes lost when we simply snap a photo and move on to the next. Authenticity is being lost. It breaks my heart. Botticelli is rolling over in his gave just thinking of someone adding the Mayfair filter to his The Birth of Venus.
Now, let me also be clear that it is not my place to judge how others choose to experience art or a museum. Photos provide a great way to look back on an experience, however they can also take you away from being in that moment initially. This is simply my commentary on the subject of technology, and its add-ons like selfie sticks, leaching into every facet of our lives.We just need to remember to embrace authentic experiences and be present.
In summary, I personally believe selfie sticks create more of a distraction and potential hazard in crowded museums or other tourist-centric spaces. People are entitled to experience things and art how they please, collecting photos if they see fit. I just ask that you please don’t thread your selfie stick through the crowd and over my shoulder just to get a photo of a painting that you are not even looking at.