On a recent family day out we visited Hampton Court Palace the famed Tudor residence of King Henry VIII. Sited on the River Thames at Hampton some 11 miles from central London this 500 year old royal palace remains one of the largest Tudor buildings in England. I don't usually take a camera on outings like these, beautiful palaces and castles don't whet my photographic appetite. Even though I live very close to the palace I had not been there since I was at school and at this rate I may never go again, and so as a sort of challenge I thought why not?
Shooting Kodak TMAX 400 film I was fairly sure that there would not be enough light to hand hold and so I bought a monopod with me. Sure enough in the interiors rooms at ƒ8 I needed 1/8, well within the usable limits of a monopod. Before shooting any interior shots I asked staff if it was okay to use a monopod. The staff member consulted with a colleague on her walkie talkie and said that a monopod was okay, however for future reference a tripod was not. At this point I also established that the photos were not for commercial use and that in effect I was a tourist like the hundreds of others visitors surrounding me, all happily shooting away with their phones and DSLR's - on ISO6400 no doubt. Albeit I was using a rather strange contraption, a film camera.
A little later I was in another wing of the palace and a guard came up to me to say that I was not allowed to take photos using a tripod, I told him it was a monopod and that I had sought permission and that it had been granted. Of course he went off to check and so as I wondered out of the room yet another guard stopped me and asked if I could wait (and not leave the room) while they awaited their response. "No, if you want to find me I will be in the next room" I told them. Having no desire to stand about waiting because they didn't know their own rules.
10 minutes later while standing in the garden with my wife and daughter a senior guard came up to me and politely told me that photography is not permitted in the palace with tripods. It's a monopod I explained. He said that they were not allowed either. Okay no problem, “But can you tell me why I had been told it was permitted when I asked and now it’s not?" He pointed to the two bands around the cuff of his red jacket in a puerile implication that he was in charge and went on to say that tripods are a health and safety concern as other visitors can trip on them and that they damage the floor - like shoes don’t! Furthermore he went on to say that basically they don’t like “proper" photos been taken by photographers, "Only tourist with point and shoots cameras really". Apparently the people at Historic Royal Palaces get snooty when unofficial photos appear on the web and in publications he added. Er… what do they think it is, the 1980’s? It could be argued that phones can take a perfectly good photo of an interior and moments later it will be on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or any other web site. All this, while I'm still loading a film in the back of my camera and fiddling about with my light meter. He even asked me what type of photos I was taking? I couldn't see the relevance of the question but my response was measured and polite "I’m taking photos of the palace, like everybody else." Later at home I looked on the official Historic Royal Palaces web site and this is the one and only rule surrounding the whole debacle, nothing about health and safety, nothing about monopods and certainly nothing about “proper” photography.
• The use of tripods inside the building is not permitted unless arrangements have been made in advance with our conservation team (to protect the floors from the tripod base so that it doesn't cause damage).
The protection of cultural treasurers and valuable antiques is an important job no doubt, but hassling paying visitors who have not done anything wrong I'm sure is not. I might just go back to photographing empty doorways in Staines at midnight!