Photography in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum?

Photography has not been permitted in the Holocaust Museum since its creation in 1993. However, that changed on Sept. 10, when it launched a mobile app designed to complement a museum visit. My question: Is this a good idea?

At the moment my answer is no.

I’m behind it for people taking pictures to remember for their own purposes, but in this “selfie” day and age, I’m not sure what will happen.

I’m from D.C. and I’ve been to the museum twice. Once in middle school and once last March. When I went in middle school, two of my classmates started kissing in the train car. They didn’t care what the artifact significance was, it was a dark place where teachers couldn’t see them misbehaving. This article even states: “The smiling selfie that a teenager took in Auschwitz  in June “could happen 50 times a day if they aren’t careful”. There will always be someone who wants to take a picture, whether it is truly appropriate or not.

In the end, I feel the root of this issue goes back to a larger issue of smartphone etiquette, which I think is still in many ways being defined. Why is it ok to take pictures or “Selfies” in one place, but not another.

On another note, turning your phone off takes away a lot of distraction. You aren’t checking it every second for that snapchat, email, Facebook alert, or text. Business Insider stated, “The average active Snapchat user, meanwhile, the insider estimates, gets 20-50 Snaps per day. The average active user (teenagers), the insider says, now gets more “Snaps” than texts”. That’s a lot of distractions, accidental dings/beeps from someone who didn’t silence their phone, possibly giggling over a message.

Also, there is some argument that taking pictures doesn’t help you remember what you’ve seen. An article by Martin Bailey boldly states, “Linda Henkel, a psychologist, produced data that shows that visitors who took photographs remembered fewer works and fewer details in them than those who only looked at them.
Henkel explains: “When you click on that button, you’re sending a signal to your brain saying, ‘I’ve just outsourced this, the camera is going to remember this for me’. The photos are trophies. You want to show people where you were, rather than saying, ‘This is important, I want to remember this.’”

I’m not saying I’m against taking pictures in museums, but I think some museums and their content are worth remembering, rather than being a “trophy”.

I realize this could be an issue with every museum, but here, the subject matter is so delicate, you could deprive yourself or someone else of a meaningful experience. When you silence you phone, even for 45 minutes, it can create a mood, a moment, a time of reflection…away from your busy life to think about an important subject.

I’m a bit torn because there will be users who correctly use the app, take appropriate pictures, tweet, and hopefully the museum responds to their questions like Ailli Burness argues. I think it can be a great platform for dialog and promoting awareness. It is another way to make connections and create another layer of meaning.

The article goes on to state, “Abramowitz, the museum official, acknowledges that it would be impossible for employees to monitor and respond to inappropriate visitor posts. But staff members hope that the museum’s status as a memorial to victims and a repository of artifacts that belonged to those victims “will have some kind of calming effect on the normal social- media craziness,” he says.”

I feel like all we can do it is hope for that.

I’d love to know what you think, and discuss the topic further. Please feel free to comment!

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