Opening Up Stonehenge

October 25th, 2010

The public reaction to my previous blog posting Stonewalling Stonehenge has been remarkable, and understandably the majority of comments have been in favour of the rights of photographers.

I wanted to address each individual comment in turn, but there were simply too many for me to cope with and keep fotoLibra ticking over at the same time. So firstly I want to thank everyone who took the trouble to make their points. Over 10,000 people, among them BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, read the comments, and PM invited me on air to discuss the subject. Eddie Mair gave us four and a half minutes (the piece is about 40 minutes into the broadcast). The story was picked up and repeated (with varying degrees of accuracy) in blogs around the world.

By the way, I know some of you think Jacqui Norman wrote this, but in fact the writer is Gwyn Headley, the founder of fotoLibra. Jacqui writes the fotoLibra Newsletters and the Picture Calls. Rather than adding to the comments on the original blog, I decided to lay out my subsequent thoughts in this second posting.

In this economic climate I do feel it is ambitious of property owners to ask for a commercial photography fee from photographers upfront, unless exceptional access conditions are granted in return.
But the strength of feeling against English Heritage surprises me. I almost find myself in the invidious position of having to defend them.

First of all, English Heritage is a wonderful institution doing an amazing job with diminishing resources in the face of hostility from both the public and the Treasury. One small thing that would make a big difference to their ability to cope would be the removal of VAT on building repair and conservation work. But our politicians and tax officials are too craven, indifferent or greedy to allow that minor concession.

Like all organisations, English Heritage will have its fair share of zealots, jobsworths, and staff who are plain barking mad. They can be rigid, bureaucratic and inflexible. They will retreat behind barriers of obfuscation and legality. But behind it all their purpose is simple: to do their best to preserve the threatened, imperilled heritage of England. In Wales, we have Cadw, banished by the Welsh Assembly Government to a prefab on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Cardiff, so highly do Welsh politicians regard our heritage. Scotland has Historic Scotland, about which I know less. They all suffer the same slings and arrows.

My parents, living in a Grade I listed house, were not allowed to change their bedroom wallpaper. It was a Chinese print dating from the eighteenth century, and it needed to be preserved. We had no problems with that.

There is always the danger of the Taste Police stepping in and obstructing development, but when there is pragmatism and understanding on both sides a mutually agreeable solution can usually be thrashed out.

I remember with sadness the wonderful Art Deco Firestone Building on the Great West Road in London. It was listed by English Heritage, but being office workers they tend to go home at 6 o’clock. At 6:05 on a Friday evening, the bulldozers went in and by the time English Heritage officials were back at their desks on Monday morning the fabulous, unique Firestone Building was a pile of rubble. The slimeball developer was fined the maximum — £5,000.

But let’s get back to photography and the rights of photographers — specifically fotoLibra members — to photograph what they like. In a free country (and I don’t believe there is any such place, on this planet at least) people should be allowed to photograph what they can see. How you subsequently use that image is up for discussion.

It would be unwise, unjust and unfair to use a photograph of an innocent stranger to promote a commercial product, or to illustrate an editorial piece on the perils of drug abuse, sexual perversion, or any other rabble-rousing indiscretion. The person concerned could sue and would quite possibly — or would certainly deserve to — win.

I might think it tasteless to commandeer Stonehenge to promote some commercial service or artifact, but we’ve been worrying this bone for six days now and there doesn’t seem to be a thing anyone could actually do about it in law.

So instead of issuing poorly worded and hastily thought out decrees which have the unfortunate effect of getting up everybody’s nose and giving bureaucracy a bad name, why don’t organisations like English Heritage open a dialogue with organisations like fotoLibra and see if we can work together towards a common goal?

They want to preserve our heritage (and so do I) and we want to sell more images. I’m sure we can do a deal.

I’m picking up the phone right now.


Add your comment


31 Responses to “Opening Up Stonehenge”

  1. If they’re going to charge photographers a fee – will they be charging everyone with a cellphone (that has a camera) that same fee? There must be a compromise somewhere.

  2. Gwyn Headley says:

    EH has said it has no objection to anyone taking photographs for their own use. I think the tipping point is the tripod. If you use a tripod you are immediately classed as a professional. And so you should be.

  3. Felix Grant says:

    I find the idea that a tripod makes one a professional bizarre.

    I do, however, see that a tripod is both an obstruction and a source of potential damage … on those grounds, I would be quite content to pay a fee for using one.

  4. Pete Glastonbury says:

    I have been photographing Stonehenge inside and out for decades.
    I pay extra for after hours access and EH are always aware I am taking photos for publication.
    I assume the extra payment is the fee to be allowed to publish my photos.
    I have never had a problem with them about this.
    The only time I had difficulties was when one of the security staff wanted me to put cardboard under the tripod feet to protect the ground.
    I pointed out there are rubber feet on the tripod but they still insisted.
    EH staff have always been helpful and friendly on site.

  5. Gwyn Headley says:

    How much extra do you pay, Pete?
    Re the tripod Felix — it’s the assumption made by staff. Try it some day. Go into a pay-for-entry site with your camera, then pop back to the car park and pick up your tripod. See if you get treated any differently.

  6. John Launay says:

    What a load of cods things, I use a tripod because I have hand shake that even a VR/IS/?? lens will not correct plus a good amatuer should always have one.

  7. Jim Walker says:

    I remember how thrilled I was to see Stonehenge for the first (and only) time in 1982 or 83. There was no fence, nor admission fees. We were free to roam the grounds among the stones. What a great feeling that was. I can understand (whether I like it or not) the need to limit direct access. Too many people, too ancient a monument. Having said that, I also do not feel that there should be any limit to photographing a monument, for any reason. It still belongs to the people of Great Britain.

  8. Gerry Walden says:

    I wonder how all this fits in with the agreement that English heritage has/had with the Royal Photographic Society when they asked RPS members to co-operate in the photographing of all listed buildings and then give EH total rights to all the images they took for what ever usage they required without any fees being paid?


  9. Indeed this is a tricky subject. I would like to applaud Gwyn Headley and fotoLibra for not only raising huge public awareness on this subject, but also for the manner in which a remedy can be sought. I believe that communication and compromise are the best ways forward in this debate. It is all too easy to feel a certain way about this subject and jump to that side of the debate. Only through discussion and open dialogue can a new way be forged into the future that benefits both members of heritage conservation (English Heritage) and media (photographers and photo agencies) alike. I think this is an excellent post and I wish Gwyn and English Heritage the best of fortune in negotiations toward a new future in which we are all heading whether we like it or not. (Well done for making Radio4 -call me geeky, but this is a great achievement!)

  10. Harry Perry says:

    I attended the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge in 2009. It is open to all on that day/night (21st June). Along with 37,000 other people I took photos. The only folk controlling access were the police and when they searched the occasional person they were not looking for tripods …

  11. Chris says:

    # Chris Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 14:28

    We the people of the United Kingdom declare that we pay the wages of the quango’s who are there to manage the heritage of the lands on behalf of the people. If we the people own all these historical sites and so on then we can photograph our own property. The same problems arise here in Scotland. I was asked by a jobsworth if I had my city permit (Edinburgh) when doing a photoshoot from Calton Hill. I was also told that I needed written permission to photograph Edinburgh Castle…………………. what a load of volcanoe’s – I stated to the jobsworth that I was photographing a sunset to the west of Edinburgh and that the Castle and the City were obstructing my view ……. I never take these people seriously as I often remind them that as a UK taxpayer who is heavily burdened by the encumbent government paying far too much tax for the upkeep of these jobsworths and contributing each year to their over inflated salaries and pension funds that I own part of these sites and have no intention of ever paying for the opportunity to photograph the said sites……………….. Long live fotolibra

  12. Pete Glastonbury says:

    out of hours fee’s are currently £14.50
    If you are on a commissioned photo shoot then they often charge more.
    EH will let you know after you complete the application what the extra fee will be.
    The BBC said they could only afford one nights filming last year for Dr Who.

    I have taken photos inside for scientific purposes and not been charged anything extra.

    Access details and application forms are here

  13. Jon says:

    It’s sadly not unique to Stonehenge – I know of an Osprey family in Cumbria (there is only one presently) that seem to have attracted similar regulation if (they can prove), where you were stood when the image was taken.

  14. If Historic Scotland think you are taking any photographs of the properties under their care they will request payment. I don’t know if they have a legal right to do this as they do not own many of the actual properties they look after.

  15. Paul says:

    I live in Cambridge and to me this is nothing new! The Cambridge Colleges are also a maget for photographers and for over 20 years now some of the colleges (Kings, Trinity etc.) have prevented photographers who are using a tripod from taking photographs .. unless they have prior permission and have paid a fee (which varies depending on what you want to photograph).

    I remember, back in the 1980’s, being ‘arrested’ by the Trinity College porters for doing this. I refused to sign their form and pay a fee so was hastily evicted from the college!

  16. Mikkel Christensen says:

    I get the impression that most people here are missing an important point: As far as I am aware, a photographer is always allowed to sell a picture (assuming that it was legal for him to take it). It is the *publisher* that may be breaking laws. As in Gwyn’s example, it would be illegal for a publisher to use a photograph of a person in a way that associates that person with a commercial product without permission.
    But as long as the photographer does not represent that such a permission was given by the subject, it is the publisher that bears that responsibility.

  17. Alan says:

    As I understand it, other than terrorism legislation, copyright law is the only legal legal restriction on photographing a building or structure. Under copyright law I believe that the owner has no rights against copying (photography) but the architect has. As Stonehenge architects have been dead more than 70 years I do not believe there is any legal basis for restricting photography.

  18. Hudson says:

    English Heritage have been very helpful with the Aerofilm collection which they now own. Previously anyone who wanted a copy had to pay a high fee. Now there are few restrictions for personal use, and when I needed a copy for a non-profit publication they were very helpful and merely asked for an acknowledgement.

    By the way, I understand Stonehenge has actually had a fence around it and admission charged since the early 20th century.

  19. Bob Crook says:

    Just as a matter of interest, I use a monopod, can anybody tell me if this a third of the price please?

  20. Every body out there wants a piece of the action. I spent some time in Nevada/Utah and never once was stopped by anyone wanting permit/money/ID and even took a photo in the court in Eureka (my wife sat in the judges chair) I too walked around the stones in 73 and have been back recently never to return.

  21. Pete Glastonbury says:

    EH do have a lot to cope with at Stonehenge
    Day to day access and after hours visits.
    Film crews wanting footage for documentaries and films along with managed open access at equinox’s and especially summer solstice when as many as 35,000 people can turn up if the weather is nice on a weekend.
    Archaeologists wanting to dig at the site every year etc
    They do make a lot of money from the site but it is not a cheap site to maintain.

    If you want to visit the interior on your own and take photos that you can later sell well isn’t that worth a few quid extra?
    Photographers taking photos at open access times are not asked for a fee.

    I think the email that was sent to FotoLibra had not been passed through the upper EH management and it’s wording was misinterpreted to mean ALL images of Stonehenge.

    At the turn of the 20th century you could hire a small hammer from the on site hut that charged a shilling entrance fee and you could chip off pieces of stone to take home.
    Despite the negative comments about EH recently they are trying their best to protect the site for future generations to enjoy.

  22. anon says:

    Anyone can photograph a building without needing permission, providing that the photographer is on public land and not private property. Tripod use is a police matter (only they can move you on if they think you’re causing an obstruction in a public area) – in London you can obtain a permit to use a tripod on the streets. Owners of buildings (and their architects) have no rights against a photographer going about his or her lawful business. English Heritage can charge because Stonehenge is on private property (although you can freely take shots from the public roads running nearby). As Stonehenge belongs to the Nation and has been standing for ions (and will outlive the last English Heritage jobsworth)I think it is reprehensible that EH should charge the solo photographer (with or without a tripod) for the right to photograph the Stones.

  23. Julia Rich says:

    I came across a neat definition the other day “Integrity: doing the right thing when no-one is looking”. If this is applied to (amongst many other things) one’s photography, then the photographer shouldn’t have a run in with legalities, at least at the image-making stage. I also believe in what the English Heritage and National Trust do – protecting our heritage – and have put my money where my mouth is by becoming a life member of both organisations. But I do wish they could get their corporate heads around the idea that every photograph is a free advertisment which generates income for them. Tim Smidt, owner of the Eden Project, when asked if photography is OK for putting on a library pretty much demands you photo everything you can, and upload as much as possible – simply because he knows it will bring in the visitors. Note, please EH and NT, he is rather successful! On top of all this, Britain is still suffering the wartime thinking of “its not allowed” which has been exacerbated by the recent use of the terrorism laws. Why should the use of a tripod or SLR automatically make the photographer a professional? Remember that the superb photo of sheep in the snow that won the Countryfile calendar competition this year was taken on a small compact. Had that person been at Stonehenge (or anywhere else for that matter) no-one would have thought or uttered the words “You can’t do that here”. One of my favourite tools is a 12 megapixel compact that takes raw images. It is not an obvious item to attract the attention of those who would naysay, or those trying to acquire their next “fix”, thereby allowing me to take images where I would normally be stopped or feel unsafe with a larger camera. And, by the way, as an ex local government officer, not all of them are jobsworth’s!

  24. Aggy says:

    Julia. And others not sure if ya aware but EH are happy and wish for the regular snappers… Editorial interests they definately encourage and allow, any interest in commercial interest for product they do charge a fee… Which i think one of them are like postcards or what Dr Who filmed… When fotolibra stated it was editorial images they were happy.

  25. Aggy says:

    Julia- in regards to cameras I completely agree! I had a canon mk II taking images of united nations big burly man with automatic weopon patrolling the area forced me to delete the images, however people with small compact cameras and mobile phones were left freely… The same happened in lalapooza concert I they would not let me in because it was interchangeable lens they said… Yet hundreds there had their compact cameras! My photography teacher once said it is not the equipment that makes a photographer!

  26. Rob Kerr says:

    Why doesnt fotoLIBRA publish a book with all their Stonehenge pics in and consider donating a portion of the profits to EH?
    then everyone wins!

    I’d buy one 🙂

  27. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Derek Houghton, Nick Green. Nick Green said: Of great interest to prof. photographers & anyone interested in a democracy. […]

  28. Aggy says:

    That’s a brilliant idea, so would I

  29. John Polley says:

    A woman working on behalf of English Heritage entered my garden in Richmond, North Yorkshire without permission, and proceeded to take several photographs of my (unlisted) house. At no time has English Heritage offered me any measure of control or compensation…….

  30. John Cleare says:

    Of course, what EH say is rubbish. Some jobsworth is talking through his XXXx and trying it on.
    The facts are that if you wish to take a picture within their fence, i.e. ON their property – then there could be a legal contract (see the conditions – if any – posted in a prominent place – if any ) implied by the issue of the entrance ticket. Like any landowner they are at liberty to dictate what goes on on their property.

    However, in English law one can photograph anything, anywhere, from somewhere that you have legitimate free access. e.g the Queen’s Highway, public open spaces, and so on ( there are certain Official Secrets Act exceptions, of course, but neither EH nor NatTrust are Offical Secrets ! )

    And you can sell ( i.e publish ) such pictures as you so desire although, in the case of people, you can be prosecuted for slander / defamation or similar. Any other course is an illegal Restriction of Trade and may be actionable.

    I live close to Stonehenge, and since it was fenced off many years ago now, my best pictures have been shot from outside the EH fence anyway.

    I was once moved on by stroppy security people from the lawn infront of a new, high tech office block – the lawn was private property – but I was able to step back a few yards onto the public pavement and took my pictures over the head of a fuming jobsworth.

    There are several classic and well documented cases of this sort of problem, dating back to the late 19th cent. Recent ones have concerned the late Fay Godwin and the National Trust ( they ate very humble pie ) and the Rock & Roll Hall of Frame in the USA – the US Supreme Court found against them. Worth looking up !

    Shoot – and tell them to read up their law books !

  31. […] when they told us to take down images of Stonehenge we were selling. You can read about it here and here. So I looked on Stock Free Images for photographs of Stonehenge. I got 34 results, not all of […]