Photographers Detail Difficulties Shooting Facility

At a congressional hearing, photographers said they have frequently been barred by security from taking pictures in Union Station.
At a congressional hearing, photographers said they have frequently been barred by security from taking pictures in Union Station. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
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By Sindya N. Bhanoo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Union Station is considered one of the landmark properties in the District, a century-old building that draws thousands of people every day. They catch Amtrak and commuter trains, eat, shop or people-watch and admire the architecture.

But taking pictures has posed a problem.

Yesterday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) convened a congressional hearing that spotlighted complaints from area photographers who say they have been repeatedly barred by security personnel from taking pictures in the building. Norton expressed outrage, saying that photos should be allowed unless it can be shown that the pictures are a security threat.

At least 10 photographers from a local group called DC Photo Rights have been stopped by security personnel while taking pictures in the past year, members told Norton. The group defends the rights of photographers to take pictures in public places and has described Union Station as one of the most troublesome spots.

"I have been stopped twice in the last three months while photographing in the public areas of Union Station," said Erin McCann, an amateur photographer and member of DC Photo Rights. McCann said she has been given different instructions by various security officers about where and how she could shoot photos.

McCann said the problems have continued despite assurances from Union Station management that photography is allowed. She said some officers mistakenly think that taking pictures is illegal, requires a permit or constitutes a security threat.

Norton summoned officials to the hearing from Union Station Redevelopment Corp., the nonprofit organization that leases the federally owned building; Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which subleases the property; and Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, which manages the building.

"Basically I'm just embarrassed that we don't have a standard policy," said David S. Ball, president of Union Station Redevelopment Corp. "There are over 5,000 people who work at the station in the course of a business day, and you may get many different answers on a given issue."

Ball said he would take steps to make it clear that photography is allowed. As a follow-up, Norton asked that Union Station management present an outline of photography policies within 30 days and enforce any new policies uniformly throughout the station within 60 days.

"All of this goes back to the management," Norton said. "People do what you tell them to do."

Norton called the incidents a case study for the necessity of the Open Society With Security Act, a bill she is sponsoring that would create a commission that studies how to ensure public safety while providing the "highest level of free and open access to the public."

For McCann, who passes through Union Station every day as she commutes, the issue is about pursuing a hobby in peace. "It's a beautiful public place. I like the architecture," she said.

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