State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

photography

by Natalia

There are people who believe taking photos steals small pieces of their souls. And there are museums that contend taking pictures devalues works of art that they own. There might be good reasons to restrict photo snapping. Sometimes you just want to look at something without the risk of tipping over a crouching photographer, or maybe you want to concentrate for a while without constant noise of cameras. By the way: many point-and-shoots nowadays do not really have to make all that noise but surprisingly few models let you configure a silent mode. And even if they do most people do not bother opting for annoying clicks, beeps and recorded shutter sounds.

What I find laughable is a copyright argument. They take is very seriously here. Any major attraction like a mansion that you can tour forbids you to take picture. Inside. But, they say, you can take as many as you want outside. As if they could copyright a view from the street. Or the photons that bounced of their property. Nonetheless sometimes they try to do just that: Fallingwater staff hands you a leaflet requesting that you seek their permission before publishing any photo taken on the grounds by any means including a private web album.

There were no restrictions of this nature in Mammoth Cave. But with all the crawling in narrow tunnels, drenched in water I was glad I did not have the camera along. It would probably survived, but I didn't want to risk it. So lack of photos from the cave is on me.

Not so with touring Port of Houston. They use the other excuse to disallow photography - security. Of course. Terrorists disguised as old women and small children would like nothing better then disrupt loading some container ships after taking pictures. Or blow out piles of scrap iron. Then again, there are probably people grateful the government represented by port officials is taking the precautions and making us all feel safe.

Supposedly flash can damage art. But it looks like our society does not really believe all flashes are equal. Recently Medvedev and Berlusconi asked to be photographed in front of the DaVinci's Last Supper. Normal people in order to see it have to get on 3 months waiting list. I do not really expect much from Russian leaders. At least not until Russians manage to organize fully free and democratic elections. But Italy's prime minister should know better. In modern Western democracies government is not above the law and rules. Unless of course Silvio believes that his bigger than life persona can successfully shield any damaging light from ever reaching anything that happens to be in the background.

I may agree with not using flash photography around paintings. Providing those are at least 100 years old by influential masters. Any work by lesser known artists may perish in magnesia light for all I care. This way I won't have to walk through miles of second rate paintings to see a single Picasso most backwater museums have. And they have it only because he was probably the most prolific painter of all time - depending on the source there are between 13 to 50 thousand works attributed to him. No reason to forbid photography. Flash or otherwise.

rockets

You might think presenting space travel is attractive and thrilling in itself. Images of the blue planet from the orbit, the famous first words on the Moon, the first docking in space, the first space walk, exploring one of the few remaining frontiers should be enough to hold everybody's attention for couple of hours. NASA Space Center by definition should be one of the most exciting places to visit. But the company that manages Houston's NASA Center does not think it is good enough. They proceed to turn the center into a second grade theme park full of rides, screaming kids and outdated computer games.

houston

Houston is a maze of multi-lane superhighways crisscrossing a forest of office towers with pockets of isolated residential neighborhoods. This is a city built for cars with multitude of garages and parking lots to accommodate all the people driving to town: one driver per vehicle. Buildings are designed to look good from the highway as if that was their primary objective. It all started innocently in the 20s with Niels Esperson Building followed by Gulf Building built in my favorite art deco style. And it went downhill (or should I say uphill) from there. Gradually low buildings were torn down to make room for ever growing skyscrapers, streets were replaced by highways to allow for ever increasing traffic. There are over 600 high-rises in Houston with 6 miles of tunnels underneath so one is not subjected to the outside heat. But instead of a subway there is one mall food-court after another. Maybe train didn't fit in after all stores and restaurants descended underground trying to escape ever present cars.