“Wonder” and Experience


The Renwick Gallery was both an enjoyable visit and a struggle for me. I’ve always been a firm believer that, while professional photography is fine and is in fact a beautiful medium of art, photography OF art is redundant. The purpose of museums is to enjoy the art, and I feel (or at least felt) that looking for the best picture to take can distract from the experience of a museum. The Renwick Gallery certainly challenged this idea. Looking for the best photo to take was a fun way to explore a museum, and going through the photos I took, selecting the good and trashing the bad, was an enjoyable way to reflect on my museum visit.


But, I did also feel (at least after I left the museum) that I had not experienced everything the museum had to offer. I found myself entering each new room and immediately scanning for a good photo opportunity, and once I found it, I was glued to my phone for the rest of my stay in that room. I’m certain that each exhibit had more to offer, and I’m disappointed in myself for not fully taking in each exhibit. I had fun, and I felt that looking for a good photo may have had me examining the art in greater detail, but it was certainly for a shorter duration, and once that period of examination was over, it was back to my phone.

CfVCemjWAAADZMJI would normally write this off as my own personal experience, and I would avoid using my own experience to talk broadly about photography in Renwick as a whole, but it looked as though I was not the only person having this experience. More than once I bumped into someone, or someone into me, and while neither party was ever upset, it was surprising to happen at a museum, but not surprising at the time, as both of our faces would be glued to our phones or cameras. I found my
self waiting to cross a room, as to not cut into the background of someone’s selfie, or moving so a photographer could get that perfect shot down the base of the tree. And I know people did the same for me. Was our search for the perfect Instagram post ruining or at least disturbing other’s museum going experience? It felt that way.

CfVCemCWwAAd20JBut then again, I do not want to say that photography ruined my experience, or even detached me from it. I experienced the museum through a whole different lens, looking for something I though my friends and family might find beautiful and interesting to look at. I chatted with a photographer while lying down on the floor, trying to get the best picture of the multicolored exhibit I was looking up at (none of them turned out to well). And when it was all said and done, I got to go back through the museum again in the form of going through the pictures I had taken. It was fun, different, but certainly fun.

I do not know how much this project helped me when it comes to analyzing pictures for my research project. Here, I was looking for the best picture to take, the most beautiful, and the most fun; I was not examining the pictures for much hidden detail (although maybe I should have been). And this is where I think Renwick’s biggest photo flaw lies. Looking for the best picture tends to distract the viewer from any deeper message the art may offer. But it also is a fun new way for many people to experience museums. Maybe attracting more people to the exhibit is a good enough reason to dilute the experience, or if dilute is too strong a word, at least change the experience. At the end of the day, Renwick was a fun experience, and I left with some photos I am very proud of.

Will Howland


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