No Photos Beyond This Point

By Jill Applegate

Today I had the incredible experience of touring the West Wing of the White House. Never before did I dream I would get this opportunity. It wasn’t until I got back to my apartment that I really could appreciate how special of an opportunity it was. Not many people are allowed in the West Wing, and its air of mystery and wonder is maintained by the fact that no photos are allowed once inside.

While trying to write this post, I was caught up in the fact that we weren’t allowed to take pictures while actually in the West Wing. How would our readers fully comprehend the amazing things I saw without having a visual reference? After much contemplation, I came to this realization: my memory of the West Wing is probably the most intact of anything I have seen so far in D.C. I couldn’t worry about getting the best pictures because I wasn’t allowed to; I just experienced it. I saw it with my own eyes, rather than through the lens of my camera. Truly, that’s really what this trip is all about.

One of the few photos we came away with after touring the Press Room at the West Wing.From Left: Zach Nunn, Professor Rachel Paine Caufield, Zachary Keller, Jill Applegate, Kelly Tafoya, Katherine Fritcke, Guy Eckman

One of the few photos we came away with after touring the Press Room at the West Wing.
From Left: Zach Nunn, Professor Rachel Paine Caufield, Zachary Keller, Jill Applegate, Kelly Tafoya, Katherine Fritcke, Guy Eckman

I can clearly remember Pete Souza’s stunning photographs of the POTUS and staff that surround the entire wing, the historic paintings like Washington Crossing the Delaware, and the beautifully lush furnishings of the Cabinet Room and waiting areas. I remember the small details like the real apples that Michele Obama keeps in a bowl in the Oval Office and how “normal” the President’s couches look. I remember the stories that Zach Nunn, the Director of Cybersecurity for the National Security Staff at the White House, a Drake alumus and our guide for the day, told us about different aspects of the wing, like the story behind the famous Bin Laden situation room photo and why the official photographer’s office is really the size of a broom closet. I guarantee that, if I was allowed to have my camera, many of these details would be lost on me.

We often forget to put down our cameras and live the moment ourselves. We let the camera lens be our eyes. Thus, our memories become distorted visions and we must consult the photos to truly remember what we saw.

While I was disappointed at the time, in retrospect, I am so thankful for the “No Photos Beyond this Point” rule, because it allowed me to appreciate all the things that photos could never do justice. We need to remember to have experiences, not just photos. Ultimately, that is much more satisfying.

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