With the opportunity to grab a short break away (and wanting to head off on a Bloomsbury pilgrimage, as per my earlier post) we found ourselves in Brighton for the day to target the Radical Bloomsbury exhibition. This also provided the perfect opportunity to visit the Brighton Royal Pavillion, somewhere that’s been on my wishlist for some time. A fantastical wedding cake of a building, I’d only ever seen it fleetingly between buildings on my way through Brighton in search of NCP carparks or in pictures on the web and wanted to see it at close quarters, even if I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
What a sight! Coming up close to its railings just seconds after jumping off the Number 27 bus, I felt as though I had suddenly found myself face-to-face with the Taj Mahal (although I appreciate that anyone who has actually stood in front of the Taj Mahal may fervently disagree). Its domes and fretwork struck me as hugely extravagant and somewhat incongrous amidst the familiar looking buildings of down-town Brighton and against what was a fairly grey sky on the morning that we visited. However, I also found it far more appealing than I expected, inclined as I was to expect a rather shabby, even comic, seaside frippery that was as much akin to a Royal Palace as is the Blackpool Tower to the Eiffle Tower. Actually, as I stood there taking it all in, I found it rather beautiful and extremely photogenic and that was just the outside; the inside took it to a whole new level.
Which is why, to my extreme irritation, I discovered that the same rule applied inside as is the case in so many English heritage buildings, not least those run by the National Trust (which, by the way, this wasn’t) – “No Photography”! I find this rule extremely galling in two ways: one is that, whilst, they may argue, fully licensed pictures of the interiors of these places are readily available for me to purchase, in the form of postcards and guide books, these are not the pictures that I want to take home with me – nobody ever takes “the shot”, the angle that I want to take as (any photographer will agree) this is entirely personal and, frankly, the colour and detail reproduction of most postcards and guidebooks is fairly ropey. Take a whole crowd of photographers inside a photogenic building and give them free rein with their cameras and I guarantee that no two pictures would be the same. It broke my heart to walk through these amazing rooms and not be able to take the shots that I couldn’t help but compose in my head!
The other thing that irritates is the “cutting off nose to spite the face” feeling I get as the entities running these historic buildings overlook such an obvious method of raising more revenue in what is a misguided effort to safeguard an existing source of revenue, namely sales of the “official pictures” of these places. Don’t they see, denying me (and others) the opportunity to take photographs does not make me (or them) rush to the shop to purchase a handful of their postcards!
Rather, I would be happy to pay (probably quite a lot) for a day-license to take my own photographs. In the case of the Royal Pavilion, it would have been worth every penny. I’ve come across this system time and again on the continent, especially in Italy, where you can often pay for a permit to take photographs in historic buildings, cathedrals and so on. The cost of the permit is enough to make you stop and think “do I really want to do this”; which ensures that only the serious photographers bother and so they are not flooded out with people snap snapping away. The end result is that those who really want to enjoy photographing the interior of these buildings get to do so (and what is so very wrong with that; I would even argue, what right does anyone have to prevent this kind of enjoyment of public buildings?) and as a result they raise more cash to help preserve the building. Of course, its standard to insist that no flash is used, to protect the interiors and their contents – but I never use flash anyway!
I should add, I quite recently spent a marvelous weekend in Paris where I was happily able to snap away in museums, state buildings and even major art galleries with no hindrance at all, it was a photographer’s utopia and hugely liberating. And so if Paris can make so free with its treasures…it just seems madness that we are so stuffy about this.
Anyway, the situation being as it is, I can only assure you that the interior of the Royal Pavilion has to be seen to be believed but I found it utterly magnificent and something I would urge everyone to go and see if they can. The spectacle of the Banqueting Room ceiling, with its palm leaves and chandelier suspended from a dragon’s reptilian foot, leaves you so stunned that you can hardly recover in time to take in that there are several more jaw-dropping room schemes to follow. Having been to the confection that is Versailles (where, I can’t help but add, I was able to make completely free with my camera throughout!) I have to say this both wowed and appealed to me more.
Understated it is not. I can understand how this particular Royal Palace was not quite Queen Victoria’s “cup of tea” when she inherited it (she also sold it off!) but I also like to think that if I can imagine myself as the more playful ilk of Royalty that we all imagine as children where every wish is someone else’s command, I too would have hankered for something with this amount of imagination and sheer flamboyance built into each and every room. George IV was still a prince when the first alterations to the original building on the site – believe it or not, a farmhouse – were drawn up and it was a bolt-hole away from the parents and the Royal court in London. It was, in effect, a giant Royal wendy house, somewhere for a prince and, later, king to play and you can see that through and through. Perhaps the word “play” is key in all this because that is exactly what you feel he did in every room, he played with his imagination and the sheer enjoyment of spending time there that was his intention is written into the very fabric of the building. Whether or not any of it is to your taste, I don’t think you can fail to respond to that as you stroll from room to room and I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a tour more.
Back on the streets of Brighton – or more literally, back on the number 27 bus to the Park & Ride – I managed to snap a few more exterior views from the advantage of the top deck and so ended my day out in Brighton (Radical Bloosmbury will be dealt with in another post); we headed off to spend a memorable night at boutique B&B Old Whyly, an experience in its own right and highly recommended if you are in the area.
Brighton Pavilion http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/RoyalPavilion/
Old Whyly http://oldwhyly.co.uk/