Simon Blint, Director of Visitor Relations at the SF MOMA is a first rate asshole.
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.