May 25, 2017

Forbidden Photography – A Tale of Travel Temptation

I know I shouldn’t have done it but I couldn’t help myself.

Climbing the old stone staircase to the second floor of the Gruuthuse Museum in Brugge, Belgium, I am struck by the sunlight streaming through the nearby stained glass window, landing on the steps in a cascade of color. In only a moment I am utterly entranced. I want to capture the image before me but the museum’s no photography policy stays my hand…for a moment.

On the ground floor of the museum, I’d escaped the pull of the ancient thirteenth century tapestries and the fifteenth century religious artifacts but here on the stone staircase, the combination of light and color and shadow and shape becomes too much for me to resist.

My eyes flash to the landing above me and to the flight of stairs below. It is silent and I am alone. I seize the moment. My right hand grips the bulky handhold of my DSLR as my left hand deftly removes the lens cap. With the flick and push of a finger, the camera is on and ready. Swiftly lifting the viewfinder to my eye, I focus quickly and snap.

It takes no more than five seconds, and the deed is done.

A security guard appears at the landing above to remind me that photography in the museum is not allowed. He must have heard the click of my camera’s shutter. Damn. I smile sweetly, innocently, and assure him I am aware of the rules.

When he moves away again, I review the image on my camera’s viewscreen. Pleased with the image I’ve captured, I’m not sorry at all, but I should be.


I’d forgotten all about this until last week when I read a post by Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View about a similar opportunity she had at the church at St. Emilion in Bordeaux, France. To her credit, Pam refrained from taking the photograph, content to write about the experience and what she’d seen instead.

As I relived those moments through her words, I instantly felt like a hypocrite.

Having recently railed against bad travel behavior, the realization that I’d exhibited some of the worst kind of conduct myself has been pretty humbling. In general, I’m not the kind of person who breaks rules but I had a moment of weakness on that staircase. Overwhelmed by the beauty of colored light flowing down over those stone steps, I gave into the temptation to capture it so its loveliness could be shared.

But I can’t do that. Not now.┬áTaking the photograph when I shouldn’t have was bad enough. Publishing it here would be ten times worse.

So here’s the next best thing:┬ávisit Brugge early next March. On a sunny day when the sky is so clear and blue it makes your heart hurt, go to the Gruuthuse Museum at around 11 in the morning. Just beyond the lobby is a stone staircase leading to the second floor. Go to the first landing and wait. Within the next hour or so, sunlight will stream through the leaded stained glass window above at just the right angle, casting a dancing cascade of light and shadow and warm color on those gray stone steps.

You have choice–stay for a moment and let the image burn itself into your memory or take a forbidden photograph.

What do you do?

3 Responses to Forbidden Photography – A Tale of Travel Temptation

  1. I’ve snapped a few of these in my day, but you’re right, they never get published. Great job describing that scene…I see it pretty clearly:)

    • Marsha says:

      It’s amazing how those few seconds feel like an eternity and how all it takes is a moment when you decide to break the rules. Sigh…such is human weakness…

  2. Gray says:

    Oh, I know that feeling of temptation myself, Marsha. Most of the time, I understand the “no photography” rule, but sometimes, I find myself wondering “But WHY?” If there are no works of art or tapestries that can be damaged by the flash (or if you can take a photo with the flash off), and if it’s not a matter of national security, and if it’s not a safety issue (as during shows when someone could be blinded by the flash), then WHY is photography not allowed in some places? To me, it feels like a control issue, and I find myself thinking it’s wrong to ban photography just because a particular group of people wants to control what photos of a particular museum or attraction show up online. Being a rule-follower (dammit), I will obey the rules, but that doesn’t mean I always like or understand them. Still, the secret rebel in me is glad you took that photo. Good for you. I’m sure the staircase didn’t mind.