Photography As Democracy in Action

United States Declaration of Independence

Image via Wikipedia

I harp on this topic, I know.  But it’s that important to me:  Democracy is a public affair.  Elections need to be transparent.  Our public discourse needs to be public.  Our national history needs to be open and free.  Photography and videography are marvelous tools for documenting and disseminating the machinations of democracy and thereby promoting the public trust.
Wow! Now there’s a waning concept:  public trust.  I don’t think the public does trust our institutions of government.  But that’s a whole different conversation.
So why on earth would The National Archives, a publicly funded institution, funded with tax payer dollars, decide to ban photography of documents as furtive to democracy as The Declaration of Independence?
I want to know!
I can hardly believe that the use of today’s minuscule digital camera and digital video camera technology could be so obtrusive as to warrant such a ban.
What’s the deal?
‘ll tell you:  head off to the gift shop.  We’re now selling the freedom to photograph the national trust.  It’s about money.  Capitalism is, after all, more important than freedom.
This is outrageous!

The Washington Post noted this morning that the National Archives will soon ban photography by visitors who have come to see the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents in their main exhibition hall. Currently, photography — with no flash — is permitted in the hall. After the change, professional photographers and media can still arrange with the Archives to take pictures; tourists will be allowed to bring their cameras (and cell phones, video cameras, etc) into the hall but will be warned by the guards if they use them, and escorted out of the building if they ignore the warning. “

[Source: National Archives to Ban Photography – DCist.]

2 thoughts on “Photography As Democracy in Action”

  1. I agree with your certain frustrations around the globe. However, I have a strong suspicion that the restrictions on photography of historical documents is probably because it could potentially damage them. For instance, many years ago I was not allowed to photograph my favorite painting “Night Watch” in Holland. Had to buy the Wedgewood plate instead. Looks good on the wall in my flat though!
    As once my antique dealer told me when I was clearing a house, “Be sure, because once they are gone they are gone, and cherish them and protect them”. I guess they have to be handled with kid gloves. One of my best friends is a professional researcher, and last I was with him in Kew at the Public Records Office, we researched the Titanic, but no hands were allowed on the documents, not even the menu that was rescued. No exceptions, delivered and shown by a Curator under supervision.
    Loved your photos of Ireland!
    Best Wishes from,
    Ellen

  2. Hi Ellen,
    Thanks for your comment because you bring up an important. Preservation of our historic and important national document treasures is so important. I recall as a young man, in 1976, when a state, one of the original 13 colonies, checked the Declaration of Independence out from the National Archives to place it on display as part of their bicentennial celebrations. Regrettably, they placed it out in the direct sunlight. The sunlight almost completely bleached the ink from the parchment making it barely readable today.
    But, unfortunately, preservation is probably not the issue in this recent policy change for photography. The current policy at the National Archives does not allow flash photography in the gallery–which I can completely understand and respect. (Besides the fact that most amateur photographers would probably get a very poor photo result from reflected flash, the flashes are insensitive to the experience of others in the gallery.)
    Perhaps people foolishly ignore the policy and this is the motivation for banning photography altogether?

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