The Sin of the Tripod

by Rachel Gertz

The Capitol Building, Washington DC
(photo shot sans tripod)

Day 167

We’re like spies.  A few days ago, we strolled into Washington, DC. That’s Washington in the District of Columbia. Weird, right? So we’re staying an hour away in the closest RV park possible. We take the bus 50 miles into town loaded up with our back pack, headphones, books, camera… and a tripod. The ill fated tripod.


You will be treated like a threat to security and to the sacred virtue of politics & art.

This did not unfold until we naively perched ourselves at the back end of the capitol building. Travis began extending the insipid tripod legs in the balmy morning sun. A perfect time to take pictures. No sooner had he reached for his camera, the roar of a motorcycle startled us. A stern looking cop with a bud in his ear was mere inches from our shocked faces.

“You cannot take pictures on federal property with a tripod without a media pass. Please take it down immediately. You must apply for this pass in advance. Even then, you must remain on the grass back there…” (he pointed another 100 feet back) “…Thank you.”

And he left without a hint of a smile. We swallowed, folded that tripod, and proceeded to take a few shaky hand held photos. Oddly enough, we felt a lot like we did that other fateful day when we arrived at the US border. By this time, the aura of the ten or twelve guards armed with giant guns surrounding every entrance had infected us with discomfort. Thoughts of bugged bushes and heat seeking missiles aimed at our eyeballs kinda dampened our patriotic mood. That’s all we needed from the Capitol building.

We backed away, nervously laughing and because your brain can’t control itself under duress, we chattered away about all the things the ‘ears’ of Capitol could probably hear, using terms that probably would raise Homeland eyebrows. That is, if they didn’t know we were two naive kids from Canada talking in third person about the likelihood of being apprehended for talking in the 3rd person: bombs, planes, codes, spies, telephoto lenses. You name it.

We didn’t get locked up, if that’s what you’re wondering.

Washington (the city) is the place known for all of its epic political and government stuff. If you want all the gory details, you best read the city historia. As much as I love architecture, the history of the American constitution is fuzzy for me, at best. I far prefer the delicious undressing of the arts. Visiting museums and guessing at each artist’s decision to use ink, or oil, or cheeze whiz. That said, Washington, DC houses both historical and contemporary museums (including the National Gallery of Art) that would impress even an art critic extraordinaire. And they’re free.

But guess what? Don’t bring your tripod. We were searched upon arrival (although the three legged idiot was folded neatly behind us and in no way posed a threat). Then we were told that our camera was fine, but under no circumstances could we bring in the tripod. It was “unacceptable.” We checked it into the coat check under the disproving eye of the checker. He also ‘reminded’ us that it was not a good idea to bring our tripods as no one would admit us into the museums. Umm, thanks Tips. We hadn’t heard that one before.

My biggest question is why are people getting in such a huff about the infamous tripod? Are they afraid we might actually take a level, well cropped photo of an iconic art piece? Boring!

Are the federal guards, with their smart mini telephones plugged into their ears, worried that we might somehow capture the Capitol building in all its architectural glory?

Maybe they have issues with ‘misfiring.’ That is, a poor amateur photographer peering into his camera cross hairs is mistaken for an armed assassin and then paints the town red. With his blood. Guess we’ll never have the answers to that one. I imagine the president’s security force is pretty tight lipped about accidental deaths.

So tripods. You might not believe it happens. But it does.

Don’t be dumb. Don’t bring a tripod.

(Other than that, Washington was fantastic)

Back to top.