Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thomas Hawk/SFMoMA Controversy

Thomas Hawk is the pen name for a photographer/blogger who got tossed out of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, because he refused to stop taking pictures (allowed with certain restrictions - toward the bottom of the page) in the museum. The Director of Visitor Relations was apparently being confrontational and rude, and Hawk was right back. As my husband is so fond of saying, "I wasn't there, I didn't see what happened."

Seems to me that two confrontational men got into a pissing contest to see whose was bigger. Being confrontational is not something I will shy from if pushed far enough, but I have to be pushed pretty far. In his shoes, would I have gone off the way Hawk did? ("Don't know, wasn't there.") I'd like to think I would first ask (not shout down a level) what the problem was. I don't think I'd continue to take photos after being told not to (regardless of what the museum's website stated), and if I felt I'd been treated unreasonably, complain to management. But I wasn't there. Perhaps the DoVR really was that big a jerk that it pushed all Hawk's buttons to the point where he pushed back.

Yes, photography is allowed in the atrium of SFMoMA. But the DoVR was apparently concerned that there was an employee privacy/rights issue, that she was getting photos taken down her blouse. Hawk was using a wide angle lens, which I'm sure meant nothing to the DoVR. Whether he was asked nicely or ordered rudely, Hawk continued to take photos, even as the DoVR shouted up at him, and then splashed his side of the story and the DoVR's name and photo all over the Internet. 

Who's in the right here? "I don't know, I wasn't there." But I do know this: by being this confrontational and obnoxious (calling the DoVR an asshole before editing the post after the damage was done), he's making it harder for photographers to function, and calling down suspicion and grief when paranoia is already through the roof. Refusing to listen to the photographer or look at the photos in question to see if they were "damaging" was pig-headed. Sounds to me like both men were in the wrong.

Standing up for your rights is one thing; as a paid member of the SFMoMA, Hawk could have gone over the DoVR's head and lodged a complaint rationally. Instead, he forced the hand of the person he argued with and was forcibly ejected. The manner in which he tried to state his case made it less likely to be heard, not more. So while most of the Internet is toasting Hawk for his valor in standing up for his "rights" and condemning the DoVR for being a jerk, I'll take the position of stating they are both wrong and suggest both men take a Valium and get over it.

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