Harry Metcalfe

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The only decent picture anyone got

Note: there’s an update at the bottom.

Since writing this, I’ve also found this post from the BJP, and Stefan has kindly posted a link to a post by Bruce Schneier. Also, the BJP have filed a Freedom of Information request asking for information about the policy. All good stuff!

I visited Aldwych tube station recently. I had been looking forward to it for some time, and turned up camera-in-hand, ready to take some interesting photos — which, frankly, was most of the reason I went.

When I got to the queue, my bag was searched. And my suspicions roused by a security man who said I couldn’t take my camera in, because it had a zoom lens. I thought this was rather odd. I offered to put on my 50mm prime (non-zoom) lens, and he said that was fine. But I was still suspicious.

Then, when we got into the station, one of the London Transport Museum staff said “No digital SLRs” — and there were signs dotted about, to the same effect. Suspicion started to turn to irritation.

Eventually, I managed to ask one of the LTM volunteers about the rule, and he said it was because they wanted to “limit the amount of high-quality footage of the station” — a statement later confirmed by others. At this point, irritation turned to outright anger. And I took this picture, as a minor act of rebellion.

So: what on earth do the London Transport Museum think they’re doing? It seemed a odd rule to begin with, and its justification, even stranger. Why would they want to limit high-resolution pictures? And even if they had a good reason to do that, why would they think that banning DSLRs accomplish it? Does. Not. Compute.

I had a look about, and found LTM’s mission statement:

By conserving and explaining the Capital city’s transport heritage, London Transport Museum offers people an understanding of the Capital’s past development and engages them in the debate about its future.

We adopt the highest standards of curatorship and communication, and aim to be the world’s leading museum of urban transport.

So. Do LTM really think that restricting the availability of high-resolution pictures of Aldwych accords with the highest standards of communication? Do they think that preventing people seeing and learning about Aldwych is the kind of thing the world’s leading museum of urban transport should be doing?

Is it not more likely that their role as a museum should be to encourage more people to see Aldwych? To engage with it, photograph it, learn about it, share it, discuss and understand it, spread the word about it and generate interest in their mission and their subject?

I am utterly baffled that in the digital age, there  still appear to be museums who think that these kind of restrictions are necessary. Or sensible. Or even, heaven forfend, good.

Museums are the guardians of our cultural heritage, not the owners of it. Museums should want photographs of their collections coming out of their ears, and getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

If you agree, why not send them a message, and let them know?

Updated to add:
The LTM have responded, thusly:

Terms and conditions for the recent sale of tickets to visit Aldwych Underground station clearly stated that digital SLR cameras were not permitted, as these are classed as professional equipment.

There was not a ban on taking photos during tours. However, there were restrictions on professional cameras and tripods because we were concerned that people using them could delay the tours for others, as it was a very tight schedule with more than 2,500 visitors going up and down a spiral staircase of about 160 steps to get to and from the platforms.

We wanted to make the tours as enjoyable and safe as we could for everyone. With the huge public interest in seeing the disused Tube station it was better to have the event with this restriction rather than no visit at all.

We apologise to visitors who wanted to use this kind of camera during tours to the stations.

This is really just a bit silly, and reveals how flimsy this policy is.

If the LTM want to ensure smooth flow, and therefore ban tripods, that’s completely fine and understandable. The last thing anyone wants is to be held up by people getting in the way, and people waving tripods around probably raises legitimate safety concerns. So: that’s fine. Ban tripods.

But to say that this concern means DSLRs should be banned as well is a non-sequitur. I would have had no difficulty sticking to the time limits — which were made very clear by the courteous and efficient tour staff, and which everyone obeyed.

If people with compacts can take photos without holding things up, why not people with DSLRs?

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