Right up there with opinions about the Yankees or the Mets and Coke or Pepsi is the argument for or against cameras at concerts. By a show of hands, who has been at a concert and seen multitudes of people watching the show through the display of their phone? Has the flash on the phone distracted you from enjoying the show? Was your view of the show blocked by a phone? Do you take selfies with the stage in the background or post videos of the band while they are performing? You aren’t alone. Like so many other things in the modern world phone cameras have gotten pretty good at preserving “the moment”. But does that make the show better for you personally? Do other people shooting pictures take away from your experience? For me personally it’s both. I will announce here and now that I am a card carrying hypocrite about shooting pictures at concerts. I do it and am irritated at others doing it in front of me. Before I go into detail let’s look at both sides of the argument.
No Cameras Allowed!
Some artists make a point of demanding that there be no pictures taken. Maynard James Keenan, singer for Tool, Puscifer and A Perfect Circle is very demanding on this point. I’ve seen Tool 3 times and have never gotten a picture of them. They had a PA announcement as you approach the arena that says if you take pictures you will be ejected and your phone confiscated. I didn’t want to risk it. Just last week I went to see A Perfect Circle and it was the same story. Back on Nov. 4th they had 60 fans ejected from a concert in Reading, Pennsylvania for taking pictures. That definitely got my attention. Concert tickets are expensive and the thought of being kicked out didn’t appeal to me. When I got to the show I heard the familiar announcement, although it didn’t mention anything about phones. Plastered to what seemed like every flat surface was a photocopy that read “No Photos or Videos! Including photos and videos taken with cellphones”. It’s funny how it says the same thing three times! Once in the venue there were the same flyer on the backs of the chairs on the floor. There were hundreds of them! During the show people were sneaking shots but the venue had spotters in the upper stands who would direct security people to the person taking the pictures. They would come, talk to them a minute and then escort them out. Some came back, some didn’t. It really put a damper on the fun of the evening. The band was great, the lights were great but it seemed that people were being forced to comply, and that just isn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll! The ironic thing is that Maynard, the singer, stands in the shadows the entire show. You couldn’t get a picture of him if you tried. I was going to draw some stick figures to illustrate A Perfect Circle but I found this shot on Google images that shows him standing in the shadows really well.
On Dec. 9th Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age kicked a photographer in the face at a show at the Forum in Los Angeles. She was an authorized photographer at the front of the stage and he hauled off and kicked her. And don’t forget the stories of Peter Frampton grabbing a person’s camera and flinging it backstage. Other artists that don’t like hundreds of cameras pointed at them include Adele, Beyoncé and the Lumineers. I get that cameras can be an intrusion in a concert setting but this is getting ridiculous, and dangerous. Now I understand some of the arguments from the days before phone cameras and social media. A film camera was a pretty big and heavy chunk of metal and glass that could have harmed someone if that was the intent. Also, the photographer could market the images and the performer would not be compensated. A photo could show the artist in a bad light, agitated or, heaven forbid, sweaty. I understand the argument, but I don’t agree with it. When I go to a show I want an experience but I also want to remember it, all of it. The professional photographers you see in the pit in front of the stage get to shoot 3 songs and then they are hustled out of there. I like to see shots from the whole show. Things may happen latter in the show. Having a photo or a video from the show fills in the gaps in my memory. I may remember the stage set up or the lighting or the people I went to the show with. After seeing several hundred shows there are things I just don’t remember about the ones I didn’t shoot. Phones don’t take that good of pictures anyway, they still don’t match a good SLR. So what’s the big deal?
Shoot what you want, then post it to the website!
Some bands, it seems like more and more nowadays, welcome fans shooting pictures at their shows. Whether they are resigned to the fact that people are going to do it or they feel it benefits their brand they embrace fans shooting pictures. The first band I can remember doing this was the Grateful Dead. They allowed their fans to take pictures and record their shows. This led to a vast network of traders who built up a community of Deadheads. It hasn’t seemed to diminish their earning potential in any way. More recently U2 have been cool with fans taking pictures at their shows and then posting them to their website for others to see. Bono pulls people out of the audience to take pictures with him. They don’t seem to be hurting. The fans appreciate that the artist wants them to have a good time and get value for their concert dollar and they can go to school or work and show others what the show was like. The band benefits by having the fan community sharing the experience. It’s pretty economical marketing.
I count at least 27 people taking pictures in this shot.
So, why do I call myself a hypocrite? I used to be one of those people who smuggled a real camera into concerts and enjoyed the outlaw nature of it. I was doing something I wasn’t permitted to do, just like hackers today. I shot hundreds of shows that way and only got caught twice. It wasn’t easy getting a good picture but when I did I felt a real sense of accomplishment. To successfully evade capture and come away with pictures that very few had was pretty exciting, and the pictures were pretty cool (they still are!). Check out the King Collection here on Power Chord to see some of my pictures. These days there can be thousands of shots from the same show on the internet the next day! So when I am sitting in the stands watching someone easily shoot a picture that used to involve a lot of effort I feel kind of cheated, right up until I pull out my phone and do the exact same thing.