An Open Letter to Lincoln Center

Dear Lincoln Center,

On Friday, May 28, I attended a NY Philharmonic performance of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre.

All patrons were required to pass through long “security” lines and have our bags searched by guards. Those carrying cameras were forbidden from entering the auditorium and ordered to check their bags in an even longer line.

New Yorkers tolerate “security” searches because they remember the falling of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They are willing to be treated as suspected terrorists and “guilty until proven innocent” criminals because they fear for their physical safety. They rationalize Lincoln Center’s “security” policy because they don’t want anyone bringing a bomb or weapon into a large closed space containing thousands of vulnerable people.

But cameras are not a security threat. In fact, citizen cameras increase security, and their forced removal puts us in greater danger. In the unlikely event a terrorist were able to bring a weapon into the auditorium, citizens carrying cameras would document it. Presumably Lincoln Center has its own “security” cameras, but no fixed, closed surveillance system is as effective as citizens.

I don’t trust Lincoln Center’s “security” to protect me or anyone; they are incompetent at actual security, effective only at treating patrons like suspected criminals, creating long tedious lines, and converting what was once an uplifting cultural experience into something resembling a visit to an airport. I can visit the airport for free, but being treated like a criminal at Lincoln Center cost close to $100.

After being ejected from a very long security line to enter the theater, and redirected to stand in an even longer line to the coat check, I moved my camera fromĀ  my large bag into my small purse and found another entrance to the auditorium. This line’s “security” guard did not see or feel a camera, so I was allowed in. That let me know how effective the “security” guards would be at detecting a weapon or any genuine threat: not at all. Lincoln Center’s “security” did not make me feel “secure” – quite the opposite – but it did make me feel harassed.

Why does Lincoln Center treat cameras its greatest threat to “security”? Does the organization believe that photographing its productions is “stealing”? Let me remind you that anyone who wants to copy images of Lincoln Center’s copyrighted material, is physically capable of doing so. Photos of Lincoln Center and its productions circulate in Lincoln Center’s advertising, in print and on the internet. Lincoln Center has Copyright law to protect them against such illegal image-copying. Copyright law also applies to any unauthorized photos taken by audience members. Lincoln Center may ban taking photographs in its auditoria without confiscating cameras themselves. Galleries and other performance spaces do this: they have signs that say NO PHOTOGRAPHS. Banning cameras in the theater does absolutely nothing to “protect” anyone. It does however abuse legitimate theater patrons, the ones who bought expensive tickets expecting a civilized experience. Furthermore, banning citizen cameras makes it impossible for citizens to document real danger, thereby lessening everyone’s real security.

People dress up to go to Lincoln Center. They pay hundreds of dollars. They believe it’s important to support the arts. In return, Lincoln Center treats its patrons like criminals, and exploits their fears of terrorism to enforce a misguided, dangerous, and invasive no-camera policy.

Lincoln Center should abandon its dangerous and harassing “security” policies and return to respecting its patrons.


–Nina Paley
Art Lover


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Lincoln Center”

  1. Nina –

    Although I agree with you about the lack of effective and appropriate security at Lincoln center, an the fact that a camera is not a security threat, the reason behind not allowing cameras and photography came from performers, not from the theatre. I know that Actor’s Equity members have it in their contract that no photography of them is allowed, except for pre-notified publicity photo shoot. Mostly, it allows the performers to have a modicum of control over the use of their image in the show. As a set designer, I have to always get all the actor’s permission to take show photos, even though I am taking the photos for purposes of archiving my designs. On the same token, a patron taking photos of the show have been used to duplicate existing designs from one show (verbatim) for use in a completely separate production, passing off the designs as their own (and were successfully sued by the original designer). In many of the standard contracts I have signed, the same rules apply – that my designs may not be duplicated without my knowledge, permission, and to be used publicly for publicity purposes.

    There is also the obvious issue of people forgetting to turn their flash off, which is obviously distracting to a performer, but is also distracting to the audience, as is the beeping, clicking or whirring of a camera.

    On a personal note, I am also of the belief that the moment you decide to take pictures DURING the show, you have decided to disengage from the experience of watching the show.

    All that being said, the treating of an audience as a potential threat should be re-thought so that it doesn’t take away from the experience, which it obviously did in your case.

  2. And we have very draconian copyright laws that more than protect all of this. Duplicate a photo, break the law. Copy another production’s sets, break the law. But Lincoln Center’s “security” policy now punishes people not for breaking the law, but for having the ability to break the law. Which ability we have with or without cameras.

    Again, a no-photography policy can be enforced. If someone uses flash, they can be removed immediately from the premises. In fact some idiot did use a flash before the performance, pissing off everyone – but THEY WERE NOT REMOVED. So banning cameras doesn’t work, but harrasses everyone; and when an actual transgression occurs, “security” does nothing. The flash user would have been so easy to identify, and I’m sure his or her neighbors would have been happy to turn them in. In fact, better than relying on incompetent “security” guards, theaters could allow other patrons to eject those who take flash photos. The other patrons wanted to, believe me.

    Lincoln Center is enforcing a no POTENTIAL photography policy. This enforcement against potential rather than real threats has been legitimized lately by the US’s horrible “anti-terrorism” policies.

    my designs may not be duplicated without my knowledge, permission, and to be used publicly for publicity purposes.

    Your designs have been copied in every visitor’s head. Which then has thoughts not controlled by your permission. To be safe, let’s ban heads from the theater.

  3. This security measure is irrational. Why ban cameras, but not cell phones and ipods? Both have the ability to take photos and videos, and at the same quality as low end digital cameras. Or would that be invading our personal space a little too much?

  4. Unless you have professional-level photographic equipment and actually intend to sell the photographs, what is the problem with taking a camera into a theatre? It always makes me laugh when people in large stadiums and theatres take flash photos with pocket cameras, only to get a brightly illuminated shot of the backs of the heads of the three or four rows in front of them, and a tiny stage in the background. As most people have cameras in their phones, just insist people turn off their phones before entering the theatre, as they should.

    One of the main reasons for all this added “security” is not really to do with copyright, but to further develop a culture of fear to keep the masses oppressed. Check out Adam Curtis’s Power of Nightmares on

    Better stop, I can feel a much bigger rant coming on.

  5. Indeed, there’s no question that the rational thing to do, if the stated aim of this policy really is the aim, is to confiscate all mobile phones, both to avoid people taking pictures with the cameras that most of them have these days and to avoid the possibility of an audible ring going off, distracting the performers and annoying the other patrons.

    This policy of confiscating cameras is in reality more about looking like something’s being done than having any real effect. (The instigators of this policy may not be aware of this, however.)

    This sort of thing has been a serious problem in U.S. society for some time now. But so far we don’t seem to have any way to fix it.

  6. Nina, I think you’re just becoming one of those people who likes to complain.

    Pretty soon you’re going to be writing blog posts about how unfair it is that you have to wear clothes in public.

  7. This is the letter I wrote earlier today to the Chamber Music Society:

    To whom it may concern:

    I am writing this to you at 5:30 pm from home having been
    denied admission to mhy subscription concert that started at 5 pm.
    The reason that we were denied admission is that the security
    guard (Charles F. Lewis, #73) asked my wife whether she had a
    camera to which she answered yes. She was told that we cannot
    go in unless we check the camera and she did not want to do that.
    We talked to Casey Hastrich (Performance Manager) and she
    confirmed that this is the rule and that it has been so for years.
    We were also told that you can take in a cell phone even it
    has a camera in it, it is only a camera that is not also a
    cell phone that cannot be taken in. Go and figure!

    This may be as it may, but we have been coming to the Lincoln
    Center for many years now (you can check my record of my CMS
    subscriptions, currently I am also a subscriber to the NY Philharmonic
    and the City Opera) and we have NEVER been asked previously whether
    or not we have a camera. I understand (and I agree) that we should
    not be taking pictures of the performances, but carrying a camera
    is not in any way indicating intent that we plan to do so.
    Whatever is going on is arbitrary both in its nature and
    in its enforcement and I have no desire to go along with it.

    Unfortunately, I have already renewed my subscription for 2011-2012
    (subscriber 736563). Under the circumstances I wish to cancel that
    subscription. Please credit the card I used for the $871.00.


    Gabor T. Herman, Ph.D.
    Distinguished Professor of Computer Science
    The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

  8. Ooh, that’s good! I didn’t have subscription to cancel, but if I did, I would. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Hmm…while taking photographs with camera seated on a tripod I was approached by a Lincoln Center security guard and told I cannot “stand” and take pictures while on LC grounds. I told him I was on the sidewalk on the corner of 67th West/Broadway on public property. He responded “I’m just telling you what I was told…you can stand on the street or across the street…” I repeated that I was standing on public grounds but he kept repeating the same phrase. I told him management can call the NYPD,etc. He later admitted he was on his way home and to “do him the favor and stand on the street (off LC grounds) until he walks away”. I didn’t go away. I would like to know what the zoning limits are? After the renovation of LC and its surrounding (including street sidewalks), LC management has been more prone to encourage its security guards to “harass” photographers. Of course, security guards interpret managements orders accordingly.

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