August 13, 2008

Many of you have been waiting for word

from SFMOMA, regarding an incident in the museum last Friday. Thanks for your patience; internet time and institution time run on slightly different scales of speed. The response is here.


Comments (27)

  • I’ve sworn off coming to the SFMOMA months ago when I was also harassed by guards who thought I was taking inappropriate photos of other guests (I assume they believed I was taking photos of children). They refused to look through my photos, which I offered voluntarily and multiple times, and asked me to leave. I’ve never had such an incident at the real MOMA (in New York) and I will continue to be a member there despite not being in the city most of the year. I refuse to support classless organizations who make the public wait for a statement which is painfully (and obviously) meant to be an insult to our intelligence.

  • From TheInquisitr :

    Tech : Duncan Riley

    A State of Fear

    The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has finally responded to the Thomas Hawk incident (our coverage) with a terse media release claiming that Hawk was photographing staff in an “inappropriate and harassing manner” and admitting no wrong. SFMOMA concludes the statement by saying that “We have heard the concerns that have been expressed, and we hope that online discussion concerning SFMOMA can now return to focus on the terrific exhibitions we currently have on view…”

    It would appear that SFMOMA believes that they are beyond reproach, and that the legitimate concerns raised in the matter need not be addressed. A perhaps typical answer from an old fashioned cultural institution that believes itself to be better than the general population. The facts remain that Hawk offered to show the pictures to Museum employees, that he was not using a zoom lense but a wide angle lense, and that he was taking shots looking down into the atrium at a distance. They have now slandered Hawk, and with any luck this may end up in court, where the truth may eventually be revealed.

    I don’t want to dwell on the points of the case, but the whole thing raises something far more concerning for society as a whole: that today we live in a state of fear. A fear that a person taking pictures is a pervert, a pedophile or even a terrorist.

    How did we get to where we are today?

    The obvious target is the media, who likes nothing more than beating up minor incidents into national or international stories. I don’t seek to belittle the serious nature of crimes, particularly against children, because one incident is one too many, however the number of perverts behind cameras as a general portion of the population is extremely small. And yet, today if you are taking pictures from the ledge of an atrium, or even of your child playing in the park, society has been conditioned to label you a pervert first without any due process or evidence. It is healthy to be wary that there are evil people in society, but have we gone so far as to have created a state of fear where photography has become a crime, at least in the eyes of bystanders? And what of the lost opportunities, the artistic expression that is lost because people feel unsafe in taking photos? Are we as a society better off in this state of fear than we were before?

    We of course cannot blame the media alone, for ultimately we choose to fear, and we choose to presume the worst in varied situations, where as 20 or even 40 years ago we presumed the best first. I just hope no one reading this will ever be on the receiving end of the mob justice such fear inevitably delivers, I’ve been fortunate, but I know every time I pick up my camera that the mob can often be around the next corner.
    Aug. 13,2008

  • note that “thomas hawk” aka andrew peterson has caused the same situations to occur at other cultural institutions. careful to look through this character’s veil of insecurities to create a sense of martyrdom around his tasteless vengeful and immature actions.

  • I used these terms to describe what were intentional attacks on an individual’s character made as an attempt to cause the target to be rejected by their community and fired from their workplace. Some bloggers voiced reasonable questions and criticisms of how the incident was evaluated. Others went too far with their vindictive commentary and by spreading personal information + images to encourage online, telephone, and in-person harassment.

    To let the flames die out, many people won’t blog to indicate that there are (not surprisingly) other ways to read this whole story.

  • While Assassination and Lynching are certainly persuasive words, maybe they aren’t the most accurate ones to use when describing a series of events that involved no physical contact. Unless the point one is making is lacking in merit.
    On the subject of freedom: if it could be “misused”, then what? Would you rather give away your freedom than see it “misused” by others?

  • Character assassination was a misuse.

  • Hi Jade.
    It is difficult to understand how limiting people’s freedom might be defined as liberalism.
    And how is it possible to misuse freedom?

  • Hi Carter. I think it possible to misuse freedoms, and that an individual’s freedom should have limits. The boundary of one person’s freedom is another person’s freedom; that’s just classic liberalism, but it seems right to me.

  • How is it possible to misuse freedom?
    Is it still freedom if you never use it and actively discourage others from using it?
    And is cyber-lynching the word for this misuse of freedom?
    Could it be Cyber-infanticide?
    How about Cyber-matricide?
    Or Cyber-necrophilia or Cyber-genocide?
    Because those are very upsetting combinations of words, also.

  • I’m with Anon, Wayne, Tom and Paul. It’s about time people focused on the shocking misuse of online freedoms that ‘Hawk’ and his mob have indulged in. Cyber-lynching is the word. Shame on you.

  • While Thomas Hawk supporters may not have seen their cyber-lynching lead to the dramatic conclusion they hoped for, ultimately, this is a win-win situation.

    SFMOMA wisely did not scapegoat a staff member. Hundreds (or judging from previous blog posts, thousands) of people take photos of that lobby and are not kicked out. Behavior that provokes and escalates the situation, not mistaken lens identity, was the obvious factor.

    Thomas Hawk got the celebrity, widespread attention to “photographer’s rights,” and by extension his photography career, that he seems to have sought with this whole stint. Even his reputation for targeting venues in the past hasn’t stolen the thunder of his cause.

    As a photographer, I’ve found the call to arms insulting. I appreciate that the museum is following suit with other institutions in supporting visitor photography. But their legacy to the field really lies in decades of exhibitions. Something that far overshadows this single dispute.

  • In my frustration over this situation I misnamed “Simon Blint” when in fact I meant to name “Thomas Hawk”. I am sorry for the confusion.

    Has “Thomas Hawk” come forward yet with his real name and true identity yet? I don’t believe so.

  • As an employer of over 100 employees I as a supervisor am always looking out for the safety and integrity of my staff. I appreciate that SFMOMA has the same protection policies for their employees. I have on occasion had to ask people to leave establishments under similar circumstances and never have I had someone react the way that “Simon Blint” has reacted. It only goes to show his pompousness and guilt in the situation. We will never know completely what happened on that day as “Simon Blint” remains in possession of the film and could have been shooting with a digital camera at some point during the situation, which means all inappropriate pictures could now be deleted. “Simon” drop it! You are in the wrong and you are trying to cast a negative shadow on a not for profit organization that is trying to bring good to the community as well as protect the people that it employs.

  • In case no-one told you guys, cameras don’t steal a person’s soul it’s an old myth comprehensively disproved. As to you comment, sorry I’m not buying it. Hawk was accused of taking explicit shots of a member of staff, something which he can pretty easily disprove by publishing his pictures. Your man Blint (and by extension the museum) is guilty of slander, unless you can prove otherwise. Your response crosses the line into libel. Unless of course your CCTV footage shows anything different, which I’m guessing it doesn’t, otherwise you’d have made it available by now.

    What was needed here was an admission that a museum employee acting in the best interests of his staff made an error of judgement, an invitation to Hawk to visit the museum and an apology from the man himself. Instead you have poured fuel on the fire and given Business 101 a whole new catchphrase: Don’t be a total Blint, treat your customers with respect.

  • @ anonymous, (if that is in fact your real name…) You need to do some boning up on the law. In a public place, (even if it is in a private building which allows the public to enter such as a shopping mall, train station, or museum) you do not have the right to expect complete privacy. It is not illegal to photograph other people in a public place. If someone is uncomfortable with being photographed, then it is certainly within their right to ask not to be photographed. Legally the photographer does not have to stop, but common decency and common courtesy would dictate that he/she would stop. Private locations, even if they admit the public, do have a right to set their own rules, and to kick someone out if they choose. But they had better be darn careful about making accusations without thoroughly investigating the situation, or they will set themselves up for a lawsuit.
    Here’s some reading material on the topic:

  • Wayne Bremser says:

    Trying to keep the public under control around invaluable art is a very difficult job. I’m a long-time member and I’ve been told by museum staff what I can and can not do, to put my camera away, where I can’t stand, etc. Sometimes I disagreed with them and thought their instructions had no point and they were being rude. But I’ve also seen what they are dealing with: children out of control, people on their phones backing up into art and people holding their cameras far over the balcony to get “killer shots.”

    Even if they handled this poorly, the “incident” (one person getting thrown out on a busy day) doesn’t really justify the level of anger and calls for boycotts or for this man to be fired. Be reasonable. These people are the good guys. Overall they do a really good job making this an wonderful place to see art.

  • I am not sure where the “safety” and “threat” issues lie in this case. Are we to believe that when one points a camera at someone in public, one is threatening that person? If someone points a camera at me, and I to feel unsafe?

    While it isn’t reasonable to expect Mr. Blint, or any layperson, to understand the specifics of lens type (let alone artistic intent) it is certainly reasonable to expect people in his position to get the facts straight before confronting paid visitors to your museum.

    I am a photographer, I spend a great deal of time on each shot… often, I will spend two, three, even five minutes carefully lining up my camera, changing the manual settings, testing the white balance… all before I take my first photo. I understand that this looks suspicious to some people, which is why I am totally understanding if they ask what I am up to.

    However, if they don’t take the time to listen to what I am doing, especially when what I am doing is done completely within the applicable rules, guidelines, and laws… well, am I expected to just close up shop and move along? Shouldn’t I stand for my perfectly legal and appropriate actions?

    It is true, you can technically kick anyone out of the museum at any time for any reason. However, if you do so arbitrarily, as was done in this case, you should totally be prepared to face the consequences.

    And asking that the “online discussion” return to what a great place SF MOMA is? That just shows the naivete of the people making this statement. If they really think that’s how the online community works, they probably ought to actually try spending some time surfing blogs.

    Anyway, Suzanne, I know this isn’t your decision, and you understandably can’t really express an opinion on this, but I do appreciate the access for this discussion. I hope that someone who is involved in these sort of decisions will be kept abreast of what bad feedback the museum has received, and continues to receive, from this issue. At this point, there is very little the museum can do to get myself (or hundreds of others) to visit when we’re in your beautiful city.

  • regarding this incident, i have this to say; if i were an employee in the position of the ticket taker captured by the photograph in question, i too would have been extremely uncomfortable. who wouldn’t be? who cares what kind of lens it was, photography people, this is about peoples rights to privacy and comfortable working environments, an important fact that has gotten lost somewhere in the all this drama. the museum staff should not be required to know the minute differences between this lens or that. the fact remains that this woman (and other employees as well as museum guests) saw someone with a mammoth lens aimed straight down at her. she did not know if this person was using the zoom function or if, as you all say, that lens was simply not capable of taking such detailed shots from afar. she saw the following: a photographer taking a picture of her WITHOUT HER PERMISSION and she excercsied her rights to a safe and comfortable working environment by contacting her superior who then did his job by asking the gentelman to cease his picture taking. “thomas hawk” behaved inappropriately from the get-go by RESISTING and DENYING his actions. insisting that mr. blint view his images. that mr. blint chose not to is irrelevant. after having read mr. hawks blog, and i have read all of the postings and comments regarding this incident, he is clearly a very confrontational, overly dramatic person. simon blint was simply doing his job, protecting his employee AND THE REST OF THE MUSEUM VISITORS from a person who was taking potentially invasive photos. what everyone seems to be forgetting is, whether the content of the photos was decent or not, his behaviour made her feel uncomfortable enough to alert her superior. and upn her supreior approaching him, mr/ hawk’s behavior was poor enough that mr. blint felt the need to ask him to leave. period. don’t you all understand that the last thing any public venue wants to do is remove someone from the premises? that if they feel the need to do so there more likely than not is a very good reason involving a broader situation? i love sfmoma, and i will continue to support it by attending the exhibitions and brining friends and family there to experience amazing art and architecture. i am comforted by the knowledge that, if i bring my children, nieces or nephews to this venue and someone is taking advantage of the photography policy (which indicates (sfmoma) “allow(s) photographers to take pictures of the permanent collection, the architecture of the building, and the museum’s public spaces”) by taking photgraphs of them without their knowledge or permission, that people on staff will do their best to prevent it if the situation is made known to them. go to sfmoma, take pictures of the art. take pictures of the building. take picutres of what you want, but people have the right to not be in your photos if they do not want to be. especially today when images taken 5 minutes ago are so easily uploaded onto public websites as the ticket take’s photo is now on mr. hawks. (interesting – i wonder if he got her permission to post that?) mr.blint was doing his job. mr. hawk was behaving inappropriately and his behavior got him removed from the museum. as a photgrapher – as with all photographers – mr. hawk should be understanding of the fact that not everyone want to be in his pictures, regardless of the content. and as a photographer, he should respect that.

  • Adam Weiss says:

    Your Press Release lacks clarity :
    “to ensure the safety of the museum’s admissions staff”
    In what manner, exactly, was the safety of the admissions staff threatened?
    “photographed in an inappropriate and harassing manner”
    How exactly is this possible? How was this particular photography different from that allowed by your stated photography policy. And what impact could it possibly have on safety?
    Your representative, Mr. Blint, took specific actions towards Mr. Hawk. Why not simply explain Mr. Blint’s (and the SFMOMA’s) specific reasons for doing so, rather than attempting to cloak the “August 8 Incident” in a haze of generalities. The fact that no one at the SFMOMA was willing to attach their name to the statement, choosing instead to hide behind “Department of Communications” is representative of the unwillingness of those responsible, from Neil Benezera to Mr. Blint himself to take responsibility for the decisions and the actions taken during the “August 8 Incident”. Not really surprising, but nonetheless disapointing.

  • We have heard the concerns that have been expressed and are deciding to ignore each and every one of those concerns, and we hope that online discussion concerning SFMOMA can now return to focus on the terrific exhibitions we currently have on view and the many exciting public programs that we are offering to support them allowing us to treat you like garbage once we have your money in hand. We thank you for your comments; we are tacking them to our staff bulletin board and laughing at all of you derisively.



  • The museum is welcome to set its own policies and procedures, and I for one support employers protecting their employees. In this situation, as the evidence clearly shows, the employee was not being “protected” because the employee was never in any danger. If the SF MOMA insists on blatantly lying about an incident that was witnessed by several people and regarding which even the hostile witnesses have nothing to say that supports its version of events, it can do so without my money or support.

  • You said it yourself: barring safety.

    Supposing a customer wants to view a painting closer than the museum is comfortable, and gets into an altercation with a security guard over it. Should the museum permit the customer to get as close as he or she wants? Or should they side with the guard’s use of force to detain the customer?

    Obviously the altercation in question didn’t involve any of the artwork, but I would say protecting employees falls very neatly under “safety.”

  • SFMOM SUPPORTS this Blint’s execrable customer service? Really?

    I am a frequent tourist and I know many people in San Francisco. I can assure you that I will never set foot inside this museum, nor offer it any donations, and I will do my best to encourage any friends or family to likewise boycott.

    Museums exist for the customers. Customer service should be the highest priority barring safety, which clearly was not an issue here.

  • Sigh. I hate fighting. I wasn’t there, and would need all sides of the story before any judgment would be appropriate. I’m hearing a lot of entitlement from the photographer’s side. But, I don’t know him or the whole story at all, so maybe it’s just me who is reading that. (I’m finding it fascinating how quickly people get all aflutter and quick to react and choose sides, though.)

    Thanks Suzanne for your patience in being the middlewoman in a situation you probably have nothing to do with. Maybe a guest post by the communications officer talking about the brand new and improved photo policy? What it means, how it is different, what your concerns are as an institution, that kind of thing? Especially interesting would be the discussion over copyright and contemporary artists vs. citizen photography, and how it effects museums across the country.

  • Perhaps the commentators siding with Thomas Hawk would do well to note that he has previously been involved in scuffles over how he shoots his photography. Are we to seriously assume that the entire world is against Hawk taking photos, or can we allow for the possibility that we are getting one side of the story from a professional crybaby?

  • You got to be kidding me. You call that a response? Try again, please…

  • Thank you for creating a post. And of course, it’s nice to finally see a response from the organization.

    But hopefully without fanning the flames against SFMOMA, how could the organization not see that there was a misunderstanding at the root of this incident? Clearly the angle and field of view from Thomas Hawk’s 14mm lens on a 35mm sized digital sensor could never be mistaken for a “upskirt/downblouse” type of photo. Given that context and the fact that no one from the museum seems to have been interested in verifying just what type of photo Thomas Hawk was taking, why is there no apology in the response? Could both involved parties have been slightly belligerent and combative? Sure. It sort of sounds that way to me. But the origin of the dispute seems to have been a mistake by the org’s staff.

    Further, this sort of misunderstanding in the context of someone pursuing their artistic impulse within a museum…the irony is of epic proportions. This sort of response does not bode well for other photographers interested in exploring and celebrating the treasures and spaces of the SFMOMA.

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