Washington DC’s Capitol Visitor Center and Their Crappy “No Photography” Policy

You can't take pictures in the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center
Front desk of U.S. Capitol’s Exhibition Hall photo by Andertho.

I was disappointed to see a post from my friend Andertho on Flickr this morning regarding a photography ban that is in place at the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Vistor Center in Washington DC. Of all places that ought to allow photography, Government (remember that old “by the people, for the people thingy?) ought to be the most open of all. If New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the NY MOMA, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Louvre, etc. can allow photography around their priceless works of art, certainly a museum owned by the Government (really by the people though) ought to allow it.

The new museum, which opened a little over a year ago, is taking a step backwards by instituting this ban on photography. In recent years many museums have in fact begun dropping their “no photography” policies, including the SF MOMA in San Francisco and just this past fall the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

From Andertho:

“At first I thought, “Well maybe they don’t want terrorists conducting a photo reconnaissance of the underground space beneath the Congress—that makes sense.” But no, the non-exhibit areas are fully photographable, as this photo attests.

So I looked on the Center’s website, and they said they ban photography in order to “protect the original documents that are on display.” OK, that makes some sense–just a little. There were a few original documents under glass in the expansive Exhibition area. However, being an avid D.C. photographer, I also know that the National Archives allows photography so long as you do not use a flash or a focus-assist light. I think that’s fair, and the National Archives has a few important documents on display, like, for example, the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m pretty sure they have an original copy of the Magna Carta too. Yeah… I may have a picture of that somewhere. So, ummm… maybe if we can figure out how to take pictures around the Constitution, we can do the same thing around copies of laws passed under that Constitution?

So why no photography in the Exhibition Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center? I really don’t know—it does not make much sense, does it? It seems like pure bureaucracy doing what it does best—not caring about the very people it is there to serve.”

It is absurd to me that U.S. Capitol Visitor Center would cite the need to “protect the documents” as a reason for the ban. This reason is just pure BS to me. Certainly the documents housed in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center are no more valuable or more likely to be damaged by a non-flash camera than all of the important paintings in the Louvre or well, the original U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, both of which are allowed to be photographed.

Rather, this ban more likely is just another example of some little self important curator, putting their own proprietary need to rule their little kingdom by creating unnecessary rules and restricting who gets access to this collection and who does not. Oh and the desire to try and sell you overpriced books in their gift shop rather than letting you take your own photographs.

This is unfortunate and I hope the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center reconsiders this backwards policy.

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8 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Dude, this pisses me off. I served my country to defend our constitutional rights, which IMO photography falls under as freedom of speech and expression. In my mind this ban and the patriot act suppress our freedoms and makes the US Gov a enemy of the constitution. Americans have historically been willing to fight and die for their freedom, if the our Gov keeps at its current pace we might have some problems in the future…

  2. Louie says:

    I’ve been told, often times these bans are to encourage people to visit the museum and pay the entrance fee. If people could browse museums on Flickr, why would they go to support the museum? Also, I think flash photography can expedite the fading of inks and paints.

  3. Rob-L says:

    Land of the free….

  4. […] I was disappointed to see a post from my friend Andertho on Flickr this morning regarding a photography ban that is in place at the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Vistor Center in Washington DC. Of all places that ought to allow photography, Government (remember that old “by the people, for the people thingy?) ought to be the most open of all. […]

  5. Stan says:

    Well I know the Declaration and a the Constitution are both under / embedded very expensive glass enclousures that are tinted to allow flash photograhy to not effect the ink and are personally guarded when on display, so that’s why they can be photographed.

  6. ajw93 says:

    Ugh. That place (CVC) should not even EXIST. If there is one building in the States that folks should be able to wander into off the street, it is the United States Capitol. Just one more reason not to go.

    PS Last week I was at my favorite local destination, the Archives Rotunda, and the guard noted an upcoming change to photographic policy but was cryptic about it. So, I would guess they’re going to disallow it there too.

    Sigh.

  7. The National Archives has created the same policy. No photography is allowed at all. Not in the rotunda, nor in any of the exhibits. Their digital staff has provided data that shows that no harm is done whatsoever to the documents by photography, flash or no flash, but they feel that people with cameras are holding up the lines of people going through the rotunda and the exhibits.