Housing Complex

Is the Era of the D.C. Class Photo Over? [UPDATED]

Cherish your class photo, 'cause your kids may not get one.

It's a staple of the middle-school class visit to Washington: A photo of students arrayed on the steps of the Grant Memorial, with the Capitol dome as a backdrop. But now, just like permission for filmmakers to stage shots there and the Trust for the National Mall's ability to fund renovations, that privilege could be in jeopardy as a result of the transfer of Union Square from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol.

That's what the folks at Central Photo Company are worried about, at least. Staffer James Jernigan says when they first asked the Capitol Police whether they'd still be allowed to take photos at the Grant memorial, they got a "no." That would be a big problem for his business when school tour season gets going in the spring, and so they've kicked off an e-mail writing campaign to the relevant authorities in advance of a meeting next week.

The Capitol Police aren't offering any assurances at the moment. "The USCP and Capitol Police Board are working with our stakeholders and their constituents to address all matters related to the transfer of this parcel of land during this transitional period," said spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider in a statement.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m. - The Senate Sergeant at Arms has clarified that such portraits may continue!

Photo courtesy Central Photo Company

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/ Mr T in DC

    Ridiculous! School groups, filmmakers, and the public in general should be able to freely congregate there, as well as on the steps at the west front of the Capitol, which has been closed off for years. I'm really getting sick of the security theater, and the hubris of the Capitol Police and Secret Service in this town, closing off streets and public spaces in the never-ending quest for infallible security around the Capitol and White House.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph


  • Mr. T in DC

    I pity tha' foo' who is in a never-ending quest for infallible security around the Capitol and White House.

  • brightwood35

    I agree with Mr T. Why the hell would I send my 13y/o on a class trip to DC if he can't get a pic in front of one of the most important landsmarks in DC.

  • Terry Gainer

    I understand and appreciate everyone’s interest in Union Square. It is certainly a majestic spot and one that generations of Americans—including the hundreds of school groups who visit Washington, DC, each year—have enjoyed for a long time. Our desire is to keep it that way as we execute the details of the jurisdictional transfer of this area from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol.

    Two weeks ago, the Capitol Police Board—that is the Senate and House Sergeants at Arms, the Architect of the Capitol, and the Chief of Police—met and agreed to continue for at least the next 90 days the existing policies and practices with respect to commercial photography, commercial filmmaking, and the use of tripods at Union Square. During that time, the Senate and House Sergeants at Arms will be consulting with our respective leaders to work toward making these practices permanent under the new jurisdictional arrangement. The initial response to our recommendation has been very positive.

    Our focus is, and always will be, the security of the United States Capitol and the people who work and visit here. However, I do not believe our security needs necessarily conflict with the goal of keeping Union Square open and accessible. We encourage visitors to come to the Capitol, we welcome them to Union Square, and we look forward to many, many more school groups leaving Washington, DC, with a special souvenir: a “class photo” with the Capitol Dome in the background.

    Terrance W. Gainer
    Sergeant at Arms
    United States Senate

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  • Karon

    That is a reassuring post from the Sergeant at Arms. But I wouldn't bet a substantial sum of money that access stays the same unless enough high level campaign donations are held up because someone's darling child didn't get their class trip photo.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Mr. Gainer: Thanks for stopping by! Can you comment on whether or not you feel there will ever be enough "security" to allow people to stand on the west steps of the capitol and view the mall from there?

  • http://www.phototourismdc.com Brandon

    As a photographer that takes many photos of the Capitol (including tripod pics from Union Square), I appreciate the concern that this article expresses but it's a bit over-the-top don't you think? If Mr. Gainer and his colleagues decide not to allow tripods, that would be a tragedy for DC residents and visitors who want to take reflection photos of the Capitol, but even in the worst case scenario it's hard to imagine they would ban photography outright. So the school photo folks would have to take their pictures handheld...not exactly a deal-breaker. I hope Mr. Gainer can come to an agreement that allows tripods in Union Square and all this is a moot point.

  • http://www.phototourismdc.com Brandon

    My bad, just as I posted that I realized it was about commercial photography not being allowed and not about tripods.