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National Archives bans photos by tourists

By Ed O'Keefe

No pictures please, when inside the National Archives. (Bill Webster/Post)

Updated 4:20 p.m. ET

So you want to take a photo of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution the next time you visit the National Archives? Nope, sorry, head to the gift store.

Tourists will be banned from taking photographs or video in the Archives main exhibition hall starting on Feb. 24. Thousands of power flashes from cameras have the potential to further damage some of the nation's most important original documents, and photographers have disrupted the flow of visitors for years, the National Archives and Records Administration said in Monday's Federal Register.

Roughly 1 million people visit the main exhibition hall annually and at least 50,000 flashbulbs go off in there despite signs that ban flash photography, the agency said.

"The extra light and ultraviolet radiation from these flashes hastens damage to the documents," the Archives wrote in the Register.

Visitors can still bring cameras, cell phones and video cameras with them when they visit, but security guards and staff will remind visitors about the "no photography" rule. Any visitor who ignores the rule after a warning will be asked to leave the building. News media and professional photographers with permission from the Archives will still be permitted to take pictures or video.

Of course copies of the Bill of Rights, Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Magna Carta are on sale in the Archives gift shop and will set you back anywhere from $3.00 to $15.00, depending on size. Postcards with pictures of the Archives rotunda are also available for 75 cents. Visitors can also download high resolution images of the Charters at or make free color copies of the charters and other documents in the public vaults permanent exhibit in the Archive's resource room.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 25, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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Seems dumb, but I'm more annoyed at the idiots who can't be bothered to turn their flashes off. I bet it's the same folks who use flashes at sports and concerts. They don't work people.

Posted by: EricS2 | January 25, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

The members of DC Photo Rights are, of course, outraged at this planned policy change. Head over here to join the discussion and plan a response:

Posted by: erin6 | January 25, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Well DC Photo Rights people are ignorant and uneducated. end of that story right there.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 25, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

If it works as well as the Vatican's rule banning photos of the Sistine Chapel our Constitution is doomed.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 25, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Why not just put copies on display?

Posted by: jimward21 | January 25, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I thought photography was already banned. I admit I haven't been to the Archives in maybe 17 years or so, but I thought it was banned back when I last visited.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | January 25, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Eric, you'd be amazed by the number of people who haven't the slightest idea that they CAN turn their flashes off. IME it's on the order of 90%; they've seen the ad, so they know how to turn the camera on and make an exposure. Everything else is in the manual, which they've never read and couldn't find now on a bet.

Posted by: nobodysignificant | January 25, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I think exact duplicates should be used, too.

It's always p***ed me off that these people just don't get it. Oh well.

Since people continue to be stupid and since we can't outlaw stupidity....

Posted by: cmecyclist | January 25, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that the rule should be no flash photography and that use of a flash should get you booted out. I do not see why, if cameras are still allowed in the building, responsible use of them should be an issue.

Posted by: Arlington4 | January 25, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Horsefeathers. This is just another way to increase the revenue stream to the National Archives and the Department of the Interior.

A simple solution is to filter the glass from UVA and UVB, but that isn't the issue.

The cause of the breakdown of the cellulose material within the document, is based upon an increase in temperature. Now if the A/C is on and the documents are in a climate controlled environment, there is no temperature issue.

Welcome to the Obama-nation, where ignorant martinets and pleasure police exert their stupidity, through their authority.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | January 25, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Dear people: learn how to turn your camera's flash off.

(Tends to make the zoo animals stick around instead of running away from your camera, fact I had one little monkey who tried to grab at my -- flashless -- camera through the glass. One of my favorite zoo pictures, taken sans flash. :) )

Posted by: | January 25, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It doesnt seem to me like this is just a ploy to get more people in the gift shop. Flash photography is a major detriment to conservation of art and documents all over the world.

Personally I think we're lucky that the documents in the National Archives are on display for the public to see in the first place. If they displayed a copy then there'd be no reason to go there. You could get the same experience from Google.

Posted by: apbove | January 25, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

So all our money they invested in the containers that house the documents, specifically to prevent UV light, air and anything else from penetrating to the documents is all BS?

I think it stems more from simply not wanting people to notice that the documents aren't actually the originals... Yet again.

I suspect they probably moved them to a safer location (maybe Ft. Knox again?) and put the reproductions on display... Just like in the past.

How they will prevent camera phones from snapping pictures is a bit impossible without banning all phones and electronic equipment...

Posted by: ProveMeWrong | January 25, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

and what's up with blaming the POTUS for this? this is Being Blinded lessons. Axe-grinding is in room 112.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 25, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Violators will be asked to leave the building? How exactly is that a threat to people who will only ever go there once?

Might as well make the penalty for traffic violations being asked to continue down the road.

Posted by: member5 | January 25, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

This is really too bad; a ban on flash photography would have been sufficient for care of the documents, I'd think--not to mention that the vast majority of people taking flash photos don't have the gear or expertise to keep the flash from showing up as a big glare in their photo as it reflects back off the glass!

Blaming this on Obama is silly; the "pleasure police?" What, then, were the Bush-administration FCC rulings and fines handed down left and right? This isn't about politics; it's about bureaucracy and a dose of people who can't control their own cameras.

Posted by: exerda | January 25, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Arlington4: "It seems to me that the rule should be no flash photography and that use of a flash should get you booted out."

Yeah, but that discriminates against stupid people, so we act like **everyone** is stupid. I think the TSA is the best example of this, actually.

Posted by: wizard2 | January 25, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

and what's up with blaming the POTUS for this? this is Being Blinded lessons. Axe-grinding is in room 112.
He's the supposedly the boss. "Let me be clear": Leaders lead, King Obummer deflects his failures and unpopular (to the deomncrats decisions, but claims any successes.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | January 25, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

"a ban on flash photography would have been sufficient for care of the documents, I'd think"

There already is a ban on flash photography, but it didn't deter tens of thousands of people from using flash on the documents. The document cases are designed to be resistant to the effects of flash, but since the cases are transparent, inherently some harsh light reaches the surface of the document.

Interestingly, according to the Nat'l Archives, more visitors were in favor of eliminating photography altogether than were requesting permission to use flash. Although not mentioned by the NA, I figure a large majority would favor a better-enforced ban on flash photography.

Posted by: scooterj2003 | January 25, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Can't see how a videocamera is going to cause a "safety issue" for the documents. Only about 5% have lights on them & it would be pretty easy to see the light on & stop the person.
So they must be doing this for other reasons.

Posted by: wvp123 | January 25, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm fine with this policy, but the Archives should give copies of the Consitution and Declaration of Independence away to anyone who wants one at no charge.

Posted by: hill_marty | January 25, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Uhhh... lol - im pretty sure they can just use some sort of glass that blocks out the damaging light... wow.. people are truly tarded!

Posted by: rockettonu | January 25, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@ hill_marty

they already do. the constitution and declaration of independence are in the public domain. you can print high resolution copies for free from the website,

Posted by: scooterj2003 | January 25, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

You can already download, FOR FREE, high resolution images of each of the documents displayed from the website of the National Archives.

Why do you need to take the picture yourself?

Posted by: member8 | January 25, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

No museum allows flash photography ( some don't allow any photography ) as it damages the subject. It's chemistry. Live with it. Perhaps reproductions should be for sale.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 25, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

With regard to photography... it used to be allowed before digital cameras... the problem today is that 99% of digital camera and cellphone camera users do not know how to turn off the flash capability.
BTW.... The same is true at the Library of Congress where photographing the Guttenberg Bible and the Great Bible of Mientz is prohibited for the same reason.

Posted by: pdlane | January 25, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Why cannot they allow people who have no flash on their camera to take photographs. Why does their policy need to be restricted to "professionals" when many amateurs take the same or better quality photos. I have what I call the "Louvre rule" - e.g. if it's good enough for the Louvre it should be good enough for anyone. The Louvre lets people take as many photos as they want, flash or otherwise. Unfortunately, bureaucrats who know little or nothing about photography attempt to ban photographers for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to "flashes harm the art," "we want to protect and maintain our copyright," "it's annoying," etc. etc. Well, guess what folks. If you really don't want something to degrade, don't display it because both the incandescent and flourescent lights under which it is probably displayed put out more UV radiation than 1,000 photo flashes. In other words, if you don't want it harmed just turn the lights out and close the doors.

Posted by: bshulman | January 25, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

If the National Archives are going to selectively allow photographing these precious documents, then for the burgoisie that will not be allowed, they should give away free photos of the documents -- 8x10 ought to do just fine. Or, perhaps they could offer the use of an acceptable, flashless camera to anyone that had a flash drive or other removable media (which could also be purchased there, of course). Hey, National Archives, come up with a solution, not just a prohibition.
Keith Breedlove
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Posted by: kbreedlove50 | January 25, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Of course you see graduations and sports events where people flash by the millions in the stands with no observable benefits. They just do not know any better. But if you want no flash, you should say no flash - even if the glass is good at stopping the ultraviolet rays.

Why say no photography when you mean no flash?

Two dumbs does not a smart make.

Posted by: gary4books | January 25, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

How about this:
Ask every tourist who wants to be allowed to use a camera in the Rotunda to leave a deposit that won't be given back to them if their flash goes off. Much fewer people will dare to take the risk, and those who will should then be careful enough to take their flash off..
+ If the NA only aims at selling more posters, there you go.

Posted by: Carnosaur | January 25, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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