TAG | Simon
Well I didn’t quite expect the Simon Blint fiasco that resulted in my forceful ejection from the SF MOMA on Friday to generate quite the attention that it has. That said, I’ve had 48 hours or so now to reflect on the incident more and I wanted to share more of my thoughts and feelings. I also want to take an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions and allegations that have been raised due to the incident’s popularity on the internet.
One allegation that has been raised is that Blint threw me out because he felt that I was shooting down a low cut blouse of one of his employees sitting in the atrium below where I was shooting. The photo above is a photo that I snapped of Blint as he was publicly admonishing me from the floor, that’s him with his arms crossed there. As you will see, the female employee in question also appears in the photograph (the ticket taker next to Blint). She is not wearing a low cut blouse. In fact she’s wearing some sort of a yellowish/orangish sweater or jacket sort of thing — she’s sort of hard to see as a 14mm lens makes people look super far away. Her arms, shoulders, in fact every visible area of her except her hands are completely covered in clothing.
More to the point, as mentioned, I was shooting with a 14mm ultra wide angle lens. A point that I made several times to Blint when offering repeatedly to show him my photographs which he refused to examine and simply would not consider. As you can see, even with this shot taken directly a 14mm lens simply cannot produce a "down blouse" shot with any level of detail whatsoever. When people are 15-30 feet away from you and you shoot them with a 14mm lens you simply cannot get anything that in any way resembles some sort of down blouse shot. I would invite anyone from the SF MOMA’s photography staff who understands what a 14mm lens is capable of to chime on the possibility that this was somehow my intention.
But I was very willing to give Simon Blint the benefit of the doubt that he may not have understood the basic mechanics of lenses or photography. It was for this reason that I offered *several* times to share my photos with him which he continuously refused. Had he simply reviewed my photos he would have seen that the photos in question were in no way intended to be indecent.
Instead Blint was arrogant, disrespectful, belligerent and quite simply would not entertain any possible conversation regarding the matter whatsoever. I gave Blint *every opportunity* to diffuse the situation, sit down, and have a rational and reasonable conversation regarding me and my photography. He simply was hellbent on throwing me out of the museum. Each objection I’d raise, each invitation to review my photography was responded to with the exact same response. "I’m asking you to leave." "I don’t care." "I don’t want to look at your photographs." "For the 11th time I’m asking you to leave." Armed with two security guards, Blint was exerting his physical authority unjustly.
It was at this point that I thought it only fair to warn Blint that should he throw me out of a public museum after such a horrible display of public humiliation and embarrassment on his part that I would be blogging about the incident. He said he did not care. When I asked Blint for his last name his response to me was "why, so you can blog it?" to which I answered "yes." He knew this was coming and still took no effort whatsoever to have a rational, reasonable conversation about it.
Robert Scoble made a point that had this happened to a reporter for the New York Times that Blint would be out of a job. The point is, this sort of treatment should not happen to anybody. Not a reporter for the New York Times, not me, and not even some random person without any power at all to fight back.
Now I was mad at being publicly admonished and branded a pervert for spying on his employees in an atrium when I was certainly not doing that and so I used the word asshole to describe Mr. Blint. I’m going to change that word in my blog headline and in my post to read simply "jerk," instead of asshole. Several people have admonished me, most significantly my wife, for resorting to that kind of language and jerk is just as accurate a description.
My problem with Mr. Blint was not a result of his misunderstanding of my photography. It was in his insistence *not to review* the situation more carefully after an incredible poor display of customer service on his part. Had he offered me the simple courtesy of a review of my photos as I offered I believe none of this unfortunate experience ever would have made it into a blog post.
After the incident I still spent several hours deeply considering the impact of my blog post on Mr. Blint and his personal name and reputation as well as that of the SF MOMA. The fact is that I feel very very strongly about public treasures and public arts. I currently have over 20,000 photographs mostly documenting San Francisco online. I shoot every single day. I shoot hundreds of photos every single day. I believe art to be one of the highest callings one can pursue. I’m trying to publish one million photographs before I die. To learn more of what I and my photography are about I’d point you to this set on Flickr. It certainly is *not* shooting down unsuspecting females blouses.
Along with a respect for my own art comes a deep respect for the treasures that live in museums. A museum to me is an *incredibly* important public treasure. The SF MOMA one of our finest. The point is though that the SF MOMA does not belong to Blint. He is simply one of many employees presently entrusted to help manage it. He is a steward of a national and public treasure. And the more I thought about the fact that such a person could be in charge of thousands of experiences by thousands of visitors to such an important public treasure, the more I felt it necessary to ensure that his sort of behavior not take place in the SF MOMA again. I have by the way personally contacted several members of the SFMOMA staff, none of which have responded to me as of yet.
So why did this post resonate so strongly with everyone?
What made this story the number one story on digg yesterday, all over friendfeed, SFist, Boing Boing and dozens of other blogs? To me the answer is simple. Increasingly we are living in a world where photographers are routinely harassed again and again by authority figures over stepping their authority — and it makes you feel like crap when that happens.
Over the course of the past year I’ve heard hundreds of stories where photographers were unjustly targeted for taking pictures. While the "photography steals your soul," superstition seems to be long gone, a whole litany of replacements have taken it’s place. I’ve seen people branded as pedophiles for shooting at public parks or their neighborhood swimming pool. I’ve seen people claiming 9/11 makes checking photography necessary. I’ve seen train stations and malls and shopping centers and museums and parks and public buildings and architecture increasingly turn against the photographer. And when this happens and when people see something that has happened to them at one point or another happening to someone else it resonates.
Over the course of the last 48 hours I’ve also had more time to think about the impact that my blog post will have on Simon and my anger has softened a bit. I am at this point sorry over any negative personal impact that this incident will have on Simon Blint’s online identity for years to come. But the point is that the SF MOMA and all of our public cultural treasures owe us more than Simon Blint. They owe us passionate employees who get excited to see the public interacting and engaging with and in the arts. No one should ever be thrown out of a museum for taking photos, in fact it should be encouraged. And if someone suspects any sort of wrong doing, every patron, not only supporting members, should be provided a recourse and a review. And *that* was Simon Blint’s biggest mistake and too important a mistake to make to simply let him get away with it. Especially when he is directly responsible for thousands of others who will visit this cultural treasure in the days and months ahead.
Finally for another second opinion on this incident I’d invite you to read torbakhopper’s account. He was an actual eye witness to the event. He was also threatened to be thrown out by Blint as well and he wasn’t even shooting.
Av Thomas Hawk
Simon Blint, Director of Visitor Relations at the SF MOMA, Yeah You Jerk, Photography is Not a Crime
Comments off · Posted by admin in Rese-bilder
If you think that photographers should not be subject to this kind of harassment digg this here.
Simon Blint, Director of Visitor Relations at the SF MOMA is a first rate jerk.
Recently I blogged about my excitement regarding the San Francisco MOMA’s decision to begin allowing photography in their permanent collection after years of maintaining a closed no photography policy. Directly because of this change in policy, I decided to purchase a family membership in order to support the museum, both with my artistic energy and financially. I was excited to begin spending regular time exploring and documenting the museum.
Unfortunately, I should have known better than to really believe that the San Francisco MOMA was serious about opening up the art and architecture entrusted to them to the general public.
After purchasing my family membership and visiting the museum today I was forcibly thrown out of the museum by two museum security guards at the direction of the Director of Visitor Relations Simon Blint.
My crime? Taking a photograph from the second floor stairs in the SFMOMA’s atrium (an area where the SF MOMA’s own website explicitly says photography is allowed).
You can see the photograph that I took when I was thrown out at the top of this post.
During the course of my interaction with Blint I told him that:
1. I was a new member of the museum and that I’d been in contact with Thea Stein in the Marketing and Communications Department of the museum who had confirmed the recent change in museum policy with me personally regarding photography in the museum.
2. That the SF MOMA’s own website explicitly allows photography in the atrium.
3. That I would be blogging my forcible eviction from the MOMA.
Blint told me that "he did not care" and that he needed to "protect" his employees — employees that might appear in my photographs. I was not shooting with a tripod. I was not shooting with a flash. I was being quiet and respectful of the area and the other patrons.
Blint on the other hand was hostile, accusatory and refused to even examine my photographs or allow me to share with him what I was doing with my art. He accused me of using a "telephoto" lens to spy on his staff from the public staircase on the second floor. Blint obviously knows nothing of photography because the 14mm ultra wide angle lens on my camera body was about the furthest thing possible from a telephoto lens. He refused to discuss this, refused to examine my photographs, refused to consider it at all and simply had me ejected with two security guards.
Ironically Blint also tried to eject my friend torbakhopper who was hanging out with me at the museum today and he wasn’t even taking photographs. He finally relented on his case and told him that he could stay if he wanted but that I was going to be forcibly ejected.
Blint refused to escalate the situation to a superior even though I told him I’d been in contact with museum personnel. He was on his own personal power trip and misused and abused the authority entrusted to him for the public benefit to harass, humiliate and embarrass a paying member of the museum. Photography is not a crime
I believe that I was very much targeted in this case because I was using a digital SLR. There were plenty of people taking photographs of the atrium using point and shoots that Simon did not target, but I think that it was the fact that I was using a larger DSLR that made me a target. Rather than try to understand what I and my art were about Simon felt the smarter way to deal with the situation was simply to kick me out of his museum.
While I might be able to understand if my ejection from the museum had been at the hand of an overzealous security guard who was simply uninformed about the SF MOMA’s change in policy regarding photography in their museum, when this ejection came directly from the Director of Visitor Relations I find this to be unacceptable.
If the museum has a photography allowed policy in their atrium as explicitly expressed on their website and someone identifies themselves as a photographer, artist and paying and supporting member of museum I would expect less hostility, aggression and harassment. Photography is an art and those of us who choose to practice the great art of street photography ought not be targeted by bullies like Blint. Many of the great artists, artists being shown in the SF MOMA itself were practitioners of street photography. It is ironic that the great Cartier-Bresson, who took thousands of photographs of unsuspecting people in his work, hangs in the museum while a photographer practicing the same type of work gets ejected by a power-trippy asshole. It’s hypocritical and disappointing.
It is unfortunate that one of my first experiences as a paying member of the SF MOMA had to be full of hatred, bitterness and harassment.
Av Thomas Hawk