Photographers' Blog

A tourist in my own backyard

July 17, 2012

By Kevin Lamarque

There may be no free lunch, but for those seeking to take in art and education, visiting Washington is a bargain. The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, includes 19 museums and galleries. All of which are free of charge. Add to that the National Gallery of Art, and the only toll you will pay is the fatigue on your legs as you wander from site to site in the nation’s capital.

I have upon occasion been lured into the National Gallery of Art, located next to the U.S. Capitol, before or after covering my news assignments on Capitol Hill. The National Gallery of Art provided me with a temporary escape from the world of politics that dominates this town. It also gave me some much needed visual stimulation. I would rarely come out without some interesting photo for Reuters. I enjoyed trying to capture the aesthetic relationship between the physical space of the gallery, the art and the visitor.

VIEW A LARGE FORMAT GALLERY: SMITHSONIAN STILLS

I wondered if the other galleries offered similar visual opportunities. Summer is high tourist season in Washington, a good time for me to join the masses and see what they come to see. My plan was to visit the National Gallery and all the Smithsonian museums and galleries located downtown in an attempt to make at least one nice photo at each locale. It’s a checklist I should have completed long ago. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’d only visited a few of these places in my 13 years of living here.

I had originally wanted to do all these sites in one day, “power touring” like so many visitors to this town seem to practice. There would be no waiting around for the perfect tableau. I would simply enter, have a quick walk around and hopefully come away with a photo or two I was happy with. Then it would be on to the next.

News happens in Washington and it has to be covered. So my one-day plan hit the back burner – on day one. It was probably just as well. After half a day of hitting three galleries, I felt the same mental and physical fatigue tourists everywhere feel. Like the many teens and toddlers being dragged around Washington by well-meaning, but out of touch parents, I really just wanted an ice cream or a swim at a pool, maybe even a good whining session. I felt their pain. I decided spreading it out over a few days might actually be better and keep my eye a bit fresher.

Working around the busy news schedule, I finally found a few afternoons to zip around town to make my images. I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed playing tourist as I journeyed about Washington’s museums and galleries. I found almost all the spaces interesting in their own ways. While some spaces and exhibits certainly lent themselves to more graphic images, they all had redeeming visual features when the human element was added to the scene.

Sometimes you have to look no farther than your own backyard for something you have never seen before. And, it was all free!

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