24 May 2011
I took these pictures yesterday evening on the way home. I had just read Philip Kennicott's architectural review of the United States Institute of Peace building on Constitution Avenue, where he mentioned that architect Moshe Safdie designed the ATF headquarters at Florida and New York Avenues as well. (Note to Mr. Kennicott and the Washington Post - the building is in Northeast, not Northwest.)
I figured that Mr. Safdie probably didn't intend the space in front of his building to be used as a parking lot for cars from Maryland, with patchy grass and dirt welcoming one to this edifice, and wanted to document the sad state of affairs.
And then something interesting happened right after I finished taking the photograph below. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the McDonald's on 1st Street NE when the driver of a car exiting the parking lot waved me over. He was a security guard, and said in a stern voice, "You know that taking pictures of federal buildings is illegal."
I've never thought I needed to carry "The Photographer's Right" (PDF) with me before, but perhaps I should. I've read stories in DCist and the Washington Post regarding photography around federal buildings, but I didn't know the details and had to wing it with this gentleman.
I told him, "I'm sorry, you're wrong. I'm standing in public space and these are public buildings. I have the right to take whatever photos I want." Then I told him it's been well documented in the papers lately.
Surprisingly, he got a concerned look on his face, said, "Oh, I'm sorry," and drove away. I felt kind of excited with the result, but I wonder about how security guards are being trained. Clearly, many are still not being told the facts regarding the rights of photographers in public space.