Saturday, July 04, 2015

lighting the white house

Nope.  I am not going to talk about that lighting.

This is a story that gets to an issue that has infuriated many photographers -- the ban of cameras in historical buildings or museums.  I run into the "no camera" signs everywhere. 

The one that really surprised me was in the warehouse-sized cathedral in Puebla.  And warders were everywhere to enforce it.

When I have inquired, I have been given two reasons.  The first comes in two parts.  Museums are concerned that the light of a flash will damage their art.  And experience has shown that "no flash" signs do not work.  The curators have a point.  A lot of people either ignore the flash restriction or they simply do not know how to turn off the function.

The second reason is understandable in close quarters.  People who try to take photographs often impede the flow (and viewing opportunities) of other visitors.  My favorite example is the crowd around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  Or even The Pieta in Vatican City.

The White House has been a no photography zone for over 40 years.  I did not know cameras had been banned.  My last visit to the White House as a tourist must have been before the ban was imposed -- because I took lots of photographs.

The ban has now been lifted according to a newspaper article I read this week.  Or partially lifted.

The article states that the ban was imposed  because "strong light can damage the delicate pigments used in art work."  And, I assume, the colors in fabrics and wallpaper, as well.

As of Wednesday, visitors can now stand in the Blue Room in front of Healy's portrait of President Tyler and snap away -- blocking out most of the room with their own face as a selfie. 

The reason for the change?  "Changes in camera technology make it possible to take high-quality photos using less light."  Anyone with a new mobile telephone can tell you that.

It all sounds very democratic and adult.  And I applaud it as far as it goes.  The announcement is almost chirpy in its optimism that amateur photographers will not clog the narrow aisles with their inability to figure out what they are trying to photograph.  "Danny, move closer to Uncle Frank.  Now, you are out of the picture, Marsha.  Stop making that face, Robin."

At least, I thought it sounded very adult until I read the list of cameras that will still be banned.  "Video cameras."  Well, that makes sense.  They are the equivalent of following an oil tanker up a steep grade mountain road.

And I understand the logic of banning "tripods, monopods, and camera sticks."  Adding them to the crowd flow would be like calling on the Marx Brothers to haul ladders into a glass factory.

But I do not get this one.  "Cameras with detachable lenses."  Those are the cameras that epitomize the supposed reason for allowing cameras.  They use less light to produce quality images.

It makes sense only if the assumption is that photographers will be constantly switching lenses and tying up the tourist traffic intent on getting just one more selfie.  But there seem to be far easier ways to monitor that behavior.  The exception completely fails Occam's Razor.

Of course, the problem may not be with the White House's reasoning.  This may be another long list of news stories where the reporter did not know enough about his or her subject to even check the facts.  Or it could be a combination of both.

Here ends my rant.  Because it does not even come close to touching on my life in Mexico.  I suspect I will not soon be returning to the White House as a tourist -- or in any other capacity -- in the near future.

Instead, I am pleased to announce that anyone with any type of camera is free to visit the house with no name in Barra de Navidad.  And they are free to shoot at will. 

We provide a libertarian refuge.

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