Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Photography at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Following on from my earlier posting about the partial ban on photography in the Louvre, my sincere thanks to Bob Partridge, Editor of Ancient Egypt Magazine (, for permission to publish the following on this weblog.
"Ancient Eypt Magazine has reported the recent ban on photography in the Egyptian museum in Cairo (and also in other museums in Egypt). This ban has greatly disappointed many AE readers, your editor included, and during a recent visit to Cairo, I was able to meet the Director of the museum, Dr Wafa El Sadidik, and I asked her directly why the ban had been imposed.

Dr Wafa explained that the Egyptian Museum has become incredibly busy over the last few years, more so than ever before. In addition to the visitors traveling the Nile valley, the Museum now has coaches coming in for the day from the Red Sea resorts as well as from Alexandria, where day trips are arranged for the many cruise ships which dock there.The rules for photography had always been very clear, but with the vastly increased numbers of tourists, who seem determined to photograph themselves in every location they visit, it became a problem. In the Museum, they began taking photos in contravention of the restrictions, and controlling this became impossible.

Many digital cameras are small and mobile phones can also be used to take photos. What made things worse was the desire of many visitors to be photographed next to the major objects in the museum. AE readers will know that some of the corridors in the museum and gaps between the cases are narrow. A group of thirty people, determined to be photographed with the Khafra statue, or especially with Tutankhamun’s gold mask, completely ground the flow of visitors through the museum to a halt and made viewing the objects for others difficult, if not impossible. In addition, many people taking photos could not, or would not, turn off their flashes. Some were even climbing onto or leaning against statues and, to make matters worse, were often less than polite to museum staff when asked to stop.

So the difficult decision to ban all photography was taken. Having seen the problem at first hand myself on a visit last year, I can see how serious the problem was and how there could be a real danger of damage to the objects. I now appreciate why there was really no alternative. With the ban in place, the flow of visitors improved dramatically and the squash of people in confined places around fragile glass display cabinets was reduced dramatically.

I then asked the Director if it was possible for people to take photos by arrangement with the museum. The answer is that for students or for anyone undertaking a programme of study or research, then applications to take photos in the museum will be viewed favourably. This permission, at the moment at least, needs to be obtained in advance and in writing. The definition of “student” does not necessarily mean study at a University, but clearly the museum will need to know the area of interest and the reasons why photos are needed.In the future, things may change. Perhaps with the opening of the new Museum at Giza in a few years’ time, the rules on photography in the old museum will be relaxed, as it will attract only the more serious visitor.

AE readers need to know that decisions such as the ban are not made lightly and the ultimate concern has to be the safety of the objects. "
Similar problems at the Louvre (notably around the "Mona Lisa") have caused, what appears to be a partial ban there, but not in the Egyptian galleries.
Keeping the enthusiasts happy and the "ordinary" tourists with cameras under never easy"

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