‘No photography’ – just another scam

I arrived at Trinity College Dublin with a spring in my step, my trusty camera slung over my shoulder. I’d come to see the famous old library, known as the Long Room and Trinity’s most valuable exhibit, the Book of Kells. Dating back to the Ninth Century, the book is a copy of the Gospels, hand-written in Latin and beautifully illustrated. We paid for our tickets and entered the exhibition room, where the first thing I saw was the ‘no photography’ sign. Sure, I was disappointed but I understood. I guess. Flash photography can cause damage over time. Makes sense, really. Sunlight can fade your curtains, flash is much more intense albeit for a brief instant – but thousands of flashes a week adds up to a LOT of radiation. I wasn’t too sure why I couldn’t take pictures of the posters they used to explain the book, though. The exhibition showed the history of the manuscript and how those ancient monks had made the velum from calf’s hide, how they made the quills from goose feathers, how they made the ink and lots of fascinating stuff, analysing the document itself. For instance, four different people’s hands can be discerned in the writing and illumination.

The Book itself is kept in a separate gallery, in a glass case and in low light. I gazed in wonder at the beauty of the document. The detail is incredible and comparing the volume with much later (albeit still old) books shows how exquisite this older workmanship really is.

Ah well, no photos. But at least I’d be able to take photos in the Long Room.

No. No photography. Let’s be clear here. There are a number of display cases down the centre of the old library filled with old books dating back, in most cases, to the seventeenth century and later. But apart from that, it’s a room full of bookshelves filled with old, bound, books. No photography? Really? I might, at a pinch, agree that flash photography could be forbidden for the sake of the books in the display cabinets, but panorama shots of the interior, flash off?

I’m not singling out the Trinity Library, this was, if you like, the fabled straw on the camel’s back. I didn’t notice an explanation of the no cameras policy during my visit, but this is what the College website has to say. http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells/film-photography/ Note they don’t actually explain their reasons. This site does a better job of telling people why. http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/en/AGNS_Halifax/about_us/collection/photography.aspx

But (sorry) I’m not convinced. We visited Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage last year. There were no restrictions on photography in Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage charged a fee for using a camera. Within the museum visitors were asked to not use flash when taking pictures of the oldest, most valuable paintings. The Amsterdam Museum whose collection has many works from the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt, has no restriction on photography.

The no photo rule isn’t restricted to art galleries and museums, though. Visitors to St Paul’s in London are not permitted to use their cameras. Yet I shot away to my heart’s content in Winchester Cathedral and the York Minster, to mention just a couple.

Call me a cynic, put I say the no photography rule is just another way of stinging the tourist for a bit more money. I can just imagine the accountant tapping his nose. “If we don’t let them take their own pictures, they’ll have to buy our postcards and other literature.”

Well, let me tell you, I bought a book about the Book of Kells which explains the history and the process of creating the manuscript. In fact, whole pages of that book were used in the exhibition I wasn’t allowed to photograph. (Hmmm) I didn’t buy any postcards. Not a chance. I didn’t go into St Paul’s but I bought a book about the Hermitage and its collections.

Some of you might say I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face. I say that non-flash photography hurts nothing – unless you think it traps a soul. Words like ‘greed’ spring to mind. It seems to be a growing trend. In the Lakes District and down around the south coast of England they’ve installed ‘pay and display’ ticket machines in lay-bys at the side of the road. Pay to look at the view and stay long enough to take a picture.

Here endeth the rant. Please tell me what you think.


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 3 June 2012, in Photography. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I agree with your points, and I’d add another: their ban is 20th century thinking. Why don’t we use postcards any longer? Because we use smart phones, Facebook, etc etc for our communications with friends and family. And with all that, we have expectations of more access, more control, and more freedom.

    But look on the good side of it: being caught up in an archaic mindset is part of a relevant cultural experience when visiting the Book of Kells… 🙂

    • Good point about the tech, Robin. I hadn’t thought of that but you’re absolutely right. My photos would have ended up on Facebook, bringing the library to a greater world. Archaic mindset indeed.

  2. I agree with your assessment, Greta, and with Robin’s point: trying to protect their income in this manner is fairly archaic thinking. But then it is a MUSEUM, after-all!

    • Thanks, Doug. I appreciate maintaining these properties is expensive but to me their attitude is counter-productive. I bet I’m not the only one who thinks paying the price of entry should be enough.

  3. I would also have to agree this is a “let’s sell postcards, pamphlets, posters & books” mindset. Through my time in the military, I got to see some pretty far-flung locales with the understanding this might be my one & only chance in a lifetime to do so. I recall touring Topkapi Palace in Istanbul where the rule was “no photography at all”. I understand the whole “flash can damage items” defense but when you are in a room of solid gold-encrusted dining ware, I doubt a flash of light will much disturb a 2000 year old sherbet set. They did offer lots of wonderful pricey visual souvenirs, obviously, photographed by someone. It was rather annoying indeed.

    • Oh, you’re so right! And the contrast at Catherine’s Palace in St Petersburg was marked. The *only* room where photography wasn’t permitted was the Amber room. Not sure why.

  4. The Cowboy Art Museum in Tulsa OK had a ban on photography without special permission. My husband Tom tells the story of getting permission as an art teacher since he’d use the photos to help teach. That museum is full of well known paintings, how could a photograph help anyone copy the painting????? Of course one could always buy prints, or the museum book!

  5. You saw the Amber Room???? Now I’m really jealous!!

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a travesty that we cannot share photos of what I deem the most beautiful room I’ve ever had the pleasure to stand in. I, too, believe it’s simply greed on the part of the college. What a shame, as it takes away from the experience. I wrote about my third visit to the room here: http://www.dianewordsmith.com/2/post/2011/09/dublin-part-2.html

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