January 07, 2008

The Forbidden Photograph

National Archives - Charters of Freedom
The old feeder has always been contrary. Going to high school in Virginia made it easy to visit places like the National Archives. Its an impressive stone building just off the Mall and displays the original Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Back then, they made a big deal of pointing out how these documents could be dropped down into a bomb shelter in seconds so the Rooskis couldn't nuke them.

The cats that ran the place didn't allow photography in the Rotunda of the Charters of Freedom. There was a prominent sign. The high school feeder was also an amateur photographer, having moved on from being a shutterbug. The no photographs rule seemed more like a challenge than anything else.

The only reason they didn't want pictures taken was the flashbulbs everyone had to use in those days. Light, it seems, inevitably fades old documents, so the less of it, the better. Besides, flashes would only glare off the glass, distract the other pilgrims and detract from the dim, solemn dignity of the place. I laid my plans to get the forbidden photograph using available light, like Henri Cartier-Bresson

I sneaked in a small 35 mm camera loaded with Tri-X-Pan and braced it against a stone pediment for the fairly long exposure. A small f8 aperture provided sufficient depth of field. The guard looked away and I coughed to cover the shutter noise. The film I cooked in an extra strong, heated developer, pushing the ASA to about 1,000, yielding the grainy picture you see here.

It doesn't take much to entertain me. Never has.

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