Photo ban at Recital Centre open day a disgrace
Despite hosting an “open day” to show-off their new government-funded building, the Melbourne Recital Centre seemed far more interested in hassling photographers.
I like taking photos. I like architecture. So when I saw that the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and Melbourne Recital Centre were jointly hosting an open day to show-off their brand new landmark buildings, I thought that this was an opportunity not to be missed.
What an error of judgement that turned out to be.
The brand new Melbourne Theatre Company building at dusk.
The MTC and Recital Centre buildings were designed by leading Melbourne architect Ian McDougall, of AshtonRaggatt McDougall. Located in Melbourne’s famous Southbank ‘arts precinct’ and surrounded by noisy trams, the buildings were designed for both architectural and engineering excellence. Both buildings have been heavily featured in the press; with a recent story appearing on ABC1‘s Catalyst programme as well as numerous newspaper articles and live radio broadcasts.
Unfortunately, when I visited the Melbourne Theatre Company and moreso the Melbourne Recital Centre, the reception was far from welcoming.
The Sumner Theatre in the Melbourne Theatre Company building
Before I’d even entered the MTC’s Sumner Theatre, I was told by a member of staff that photography was prohibited. When I queried this, she told me “It’s just the rules” but then went on to explain that they didn’t want people taking photos of the artworks.
Fair enough, the artworks are protected by copyright laws and I don’t wish to challenge that.
My interest is in the architecture. Yet when I explained this, she was still adamant that I was not to take any photos. After a brief discussion, she consulted her manager who agreed that photography was permitted in the theatres, but not of the artworks.
I felt that was a fair compromise and a sensible outcome, so I went in and took some photos of the beautiful theatre.
It was once I’d left the Melbourne Theatre Company and went next door to the Melbourne Recital Hall that events took a dive.
The front window of the Melbourne Recital Centre
For I’d barely taken one shot of the foyer, before I was hastily approached by a woman who told me photography was banned. When I queried this, I got the same answer as before: “Those are just the rules”. Informing her of the management decision at the MTC, she then consulted a more senior staff member who also told me “It’s just the rules”.
Finding it somewhat incredible that an arts organisation would invite people into their landmark buildings, only to “ban” photography, I again asked her what the specific reason was. She blamed the architect, the artists, and management before running out of excuses. So I asked her to go and see her manager to sort this matter out properly.
Whilst waiting for her to return, I noticed another man, with an even bigger camera than mine, taking interior shots with the aid of a tripod. So I asked the first woman why it was that he was permitted to take photos and I was not. She guessed (but was unsure) that he might be from the media. I pointed out the absurdity of this approach. Surely, aren’t his photos of the same building, so what’s the difference between he and I?
The interior of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre
As we stood there discussing matters, I saw numerous people taking photos of the building with their tiny point-and-shoot cameras. None of these people were being approached as I’d been. I queried this also, and was told “It’s because they’re harder to catch”. I wondered if it was because I had a dSLR camera that I was approached. Either way, their logic is flawed.
I should say that the two staff members I spoke to were very polite and courteous. And I do realise that they were simply doing their job, as instructed. My gripe is with the management of the Melbourne Recital Centre.
According to Arts Victoria, $128 million of taxypayer’s money was jointly invested in the construction of the Melbourne Theatre Company and Melbourne Recital Centre buildings. These are public buildings, constructed on Crown land and built for public enjoyment. There’s no law prohibiting photography of public buildings. My photography was with in the context of an ‘open day’, where members of the public were supposed to come and enjoy the new theatres.
For me, the biggest issue of all was the realisation that it was an arts organisation that was persecuting photographers. Of all sectors of society, wouldn’t you expect an arts organisation to be most sympathetic towards artistic pursuits?
Having my enjoyment of the occasion ruined, I was again approached by a staff member who informed me that MRC management had made a sudden change of policy, and that I was now free to photograph the building.
Foyer space and front window at the Melbourne Recital Centre
It can only be concluded from this absurdity that the initial intervention was an utter waste of time. They’d succeeded in completely ruining my experience, and for what purpose?
Amazingly, I was pestered by two more staff members before I left the venue in disgust (having taken the photos that I wanted).
In a liberal democracy such as Australia, I am astounded that I should be treated by a government-owned arts organisation in such a manner. The Melbourne Recital Centre management need to think very carefully about what it is that their organisation stands for.
I have no problem with the Recital Centre wanting to protect the intellectual property of their artists. That’s fair enough, and I respect that. But I don’t respect their attitude towards photography of the public-access parts of their government-funded facilities on an ‘Open Day’. I don’t respect the very selective enforcement of their “policy”, either.
I will be taking this matter up with the Melbourne Recital Centre. If they so respond, I will publish their responses on The Grapevine.