The Basilica of San Marco towered above me. I snapped off a few photos of its half exposed, half under-construction exterior. This was our first Italian landmark, and Steve Rick’s advice was spot on to visit in the mid-afternoon when the crowds were smaller. Brand new Samsung NX100 camera in hand, I was ready to photo document its interior – the Byzantine architecture, the glittering mosaics, the golden altar, the tomb of Saint Mark. But I was halted by a sign at the front door that read, “No Photography.” A rule that I discovered was in place at most Italian churches and landmarks. And if photography was permitted, flash photography was not.
Apparently, most tourists viewed these rules as guidelines that didn’t apply to them. All throughout the Basilica of San Marco and elsewhere, tourists of all nationalities snapped off photos with everything from high end DSLRs to camera phones. If the sign read “No photography”, the majority of tourists photographed. If the sign read “No flash photography”, the place was lit up like a night club lined with strobe lights. Perhaps everyone feels like this blogger? That it was his right to take pictures. After all, he dealt with the masses of tourists at the Vatican with 4 children. The Catholic Church should take pity on him and let the rules slide. Have we really become this selfish as tourists? That we can simply trample on ancient artifacts and paintings, because, gosh darn it we paid to be there. Do we not care that we are destroying history for future generations to enjoy? But hey, we have to post that picture on Facebook to prove to our friends that we were there.
I’ll admit that at first I was a bit peeved. Sure, I would have loved to capture photos at the catacombs in Rome, on our tour of the Capuchin Crypt, under the many layers of history beneath the Basilica San Clemente, and in the Sistine Chapel. But soon I started to find relief in the no picture taking rules. There was no pressure to study the painting to capture the right angle or light. I paused not to snap a photo, but to admire the artistry. Artistry that is better than any photo I could muster. Instead of building a collection of photos that will either collect dust and get lost in the memory of my computer, I captured experiences that will last a lifetime.
I also understood the reasoning behind the rules. First, flash photography can be quite harmful to artwork and historical artifacts. If every tourist was permitted to flash away, then the costs of maintenance would be astronomical if even possible. Second, throngs and throngs of tourists visit Italy. The museums, churches, and ruins are overrun by them. The lines outside the Vatican, the Coliseum, Saint Mark’s Cathedral, and the Doges Palace make the line for Space Mountain look miniscule. If picture taking was permitted, then the lines would be even longer allowing only a portion of tourists to enter.
Third, and I think most important, sometimes “no photography” rules exist for religious purposes. Take the Sistine Chapel for example, the Catholic Church deems this room to be a very holy place. While they allow hordes of tourists to visit it, they permit neither talking nor photography. Yes, it is true that the Vatican security obnoxiously “shushes” everyone. And, it is most annoying to be shoulder-to-shoulder in the tiny room for what felt like only a fleeting moment to stair up at the masterpieces. But to ignore the “no picture” rule is to disregard their religious views. Or are they just a bunch of silly Catholics? I saw tourists (mostly Asian) posing in front of bodies of saints preserved in wax making funny faces. I did not see this same irreverence towards the Buddhist religion when I was temple touring in Thailand. There, it seemed tourists had more respect. Not once did I see someone sitting on Buddha’s lap and rubbing his belly for a good photo op. But maybe I’ll try that out next time?
What are your thoughts? Where do you stand on breaking the photo taking rule?