It started out filled-to-the-brim with excitement at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. I have visited a few times, and about eight years ago, my husband and I took our engagement pictures there! We still love the photos and the reactions we get when we tell people we took our photos in a J-A-I-L. Though the Penitentiary is chock-full with crazy stories of “bad guys” and things like that, the walls, the peeling paint, and the prison guard cat walks make for a photographer’s dream- which is probably why the “S” family chose to have their photos there- mom is a very talented local photographer and she has a keen eye for interesting backgrounds!
One fine morning, we met up, after having emailed ESP months prior to be sure we could take photos during our visit. We were about five minutes into our much-anticipated session when we were approached by a staff member asking if I was photographing professional models. We were then told that professional models are NOT permitted on the grounds during regular hours. We giggled and assured him that the S family were not professionals and that we had emailed months before and all was good. He shrugged hesitantly but then left.
We should have taken off running then, getting as many photos as possible, but instead, we paused to allow a large tour to pass by to be sure we were not interfering with any guests. Big mistake.
Another staff member approached us. As she began talking us in circles, I heard the words “policy-models-guests can’t tell they’re not models-policy-I want to see that email-unfortunately NO” circle around me, I tried to listen as Mr. S. calmly and professionally explained our case.
She was not buying it. After 10 minutes of run-around she finally said, you cannot be in here.
As Ava would say, “Womp, womp”.
Mr. S. valiantly tried to save the day by speaking to management. No-go. We got our ticket-money refunded and we were tossed out onto the street (okay, slight exaggeration, we actually just walked out on our own). Bummer!
Here we were, an hour away from home (in my case), unable to take pictures we had been so giddy talking about for months.
Never one to make lemons into more lemons (The S family isn’t either, thankfully), we got to work AROUND ESP and thankfully found some BEAUTIFUL and neat locations!
A few weeks after the debacle, the S family DID receive an apology as well as some “we’re sorry” complimentary passes, but still no invite to come in and shoot. On a side note to my photographer friends, my studiomate shoots there often, and said his clients simply pay a fee for a photography permit. We did not get that option offered to us, but all’s well that ends well!