Photographing university architecture (or not)

Yesterday morning I headed into the University of Greenwich, to photograph a Happy Humanist. There were a couple of interesting moments.

I met said Humanist in their office, and they asked where I’d like to take the pictures. As the office was pretty grand, and had lovely white walls for bounce-flash, I suggested we stay where we were. This went fine, and afterwards I remarked that I hadn’t been to the university before. They recommended I see the Painted Hall, so after saying goodbye, that’s where I went. It turns out to be modestly named.

Painted Hall at Greenwich University

Same dude who painted St. Paul’s Cathedral. Damn. This is why you should always do your research – I really missed a trick there. I have a portrait against a mantelpiece, when that was only two minutes walk. I considered going back, but it was 20mins after my three-weeks-in-advance appointment, and I didn’t quite have the nerve.

So, while poking myself with a mind-cilice, I figured I might as well have a proper look around. The Hall’s sign indicated it was open from 10:00, so I went in, picked up a laminated info-sheet, and wandered around taking photos. It’s a lovely place, and it helps that it, along with the other university buildings, was constructed for public use: you can admire the architecture without the opulence sticking in the craw – sure, it might be extravagant, but at least it’s useful, and not wasting itself like a beautiful stately home, palace, or church. I had a pleasant time trying to figure out muses, vices, astronomers, royalty, areas of the world etc.., and spent quite a while in there. I spent considerably less time in my next destination.

Across the way was the chapel. I thought it might be similarly impressive, so I went in through the open door- again, past an ‘open from 10:00’ sign – and joined other tourists looking around. Here’s the scene:

University of Greenwich Chapel, with Violin Man

I hope you like this picture. They threw me out for taking it.

There’s a guy with a violin1, you see, and he makes all the difference. I’d taken two shots – both without flash – when a security lady hurried over and brusquely told me I wasn’t allowed to photograph ‘the performers’. I had no quarrel with this; there weren’t any signs saying as much, but if they wanted me to stop, sure. But she quickly continued, asking if I was part of ‘Trinity’. I said no, and she told me I’d have to leave.

I never did figure out what was going on. Maybe everyone else in there was part of a musical group, but they certainly looked like tourists, and the front door was wide open. Having said that, lots of people with instruments were heading inside a few minutes later. Odd.

It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to leave because of taking a photo, and I was a bit taken aback – next time I’ll certainly at least question the reasons.

But hey – asked to leave a chapel. Not exactly a rite of passage, but not bad.

  1. I have blurred out Violin Man’s face. Although I had my camera’s soul-stealing mode turned off, you can’t be too careful. []