OLD CONTENT: How to stage a behind-the-scenes museum photo-meet to allow residents to communicate for you


It really was a very simple idea… let residents photograph items at their museum and everyone wins.

Six years ago I was involved in a project that did exactly that and its simplicity deserves a re-telling. Not just because it was a darn good idea. But also because the person who made it work died unexpectedly last week.

I’ve blogged my sadness about Steph Clarke’s death here. In looking back, a project I worked with her that saw residents and council work together stands out. So, I’m updating it and re-blogging the idea to see who else will take this up. Looking at what others have done Walsall Museum was leading the way ahead of the world-famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam who started a similar project a short while after. So did Brooklyn Museum in the American city of New York.

What was the idea?

Simple.  Let residents photograph items held by a museum in the area where they live. Like here, here or here. They can post them and if they are posted with a creative commons licence they can be re-used by the museum itself.

How could it work?

Easy. Work with a photography club or a more informal group who may meet via the social web. Six years ago when we ran the project the town had a thriving Flickr group. The group enjoyed taking pictures but often struggled with places to take pictures. In 2016, this may well be an instagram meet-up. Or even for a group or page that may not be primarily photographic.

Who has done this?

In 2010, we did this at Walsall Museum and by 2014, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam had rolled out a more comprehensive programme. Hi and low resolution images are made available for out-of-copyright work. A study found that the benefits included a bigger digital footprint ans extra interest. You can read more here.

What’s in it for the organisation?

Lots. The chance to create a buzz and online noise about the museum and tell the stories of items they hold. In Walsall, this was things like items from the Leather industry or a football from an FA Cup match. Most museums can only display 10 per cent at most of what they have. So, doesn’t it make sense?  And you are letting residents to help communicate for you.

With the permission to re-use images through a creative commons licence the museum has access to photography without spending money but also can ensure some audience for updated webpages or social channels.

What’s in it for residents?

People get special access to items they effectively have a stake in. They can test their creativity and maybe feel a bit more proud of the area they live in.

So, why don’t people do this more often?

Basically,  in the UK there is a very defensive attitude towards photography of items and images owned by an authority. In the US, all photography commissioned by the public purse is released without copyright. Anyone is free to use the images for whatever reason. Why not? It belongs to the people.

This idea is fine maybe if you own a particularly famous painting where you can generate income from the postcards, posters and t-shirts this can generate. But the 99.99 per cent of items wouldn’t command much of a market price.   The photo consent form that Steph drew-up is here. It’s a half way house to allowing full copyright. But it’s a pragmatic starting point.



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1 Comment

  1. Hi Dan.
    Your reblogging of this piece did attract my attention. I thought the events in Walsall that I attended were both well organised, and “fair” in terms of the restrictions put on us as photographers.

    I was also saddened to read of Steph’s passing. I only met her a few times at these events, but her obvious enthusiasm and willingness to get things done rather than wait for someone else to sort it out are qualities we should all be sorry to lose.

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