The Bigger Concert Crime: Talking or Taking Cell Phone Photos?

07/11/2012 10:28 AM |



Bob Boilen wants to take pictures at concerts. He wants to put them on Instagram between tweeting and texting about the show, like an adroit concert-going ninja. The host of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” posted a rant on Monday regarding a recent M.Ward show at the 9:30 Club in DC where upon arriving he was informed by the venue that Ward had asked for no photos or video be taken during the show, even on cell phones. (Expect the same when he swings by Prospect Park next month, we suppose?) Boilen, reasonably surprised, tweeted his doubt that anyone would even follow the rule. Photography, both amateur and professional, has become prominent at concerts these days, no news there (unless, of course, you’re going to see Jeff Mangum). But seeing how many people adhered to no-photo policy that night and how little support he received from the Twitter community in regards to his frustration (even Neko Case piped in, siding with Ward), Boilen was taken aback:

The nature of a nightclub is that it’s filled with plenty of distractions: clinking glasses, cappuccino machines, friends having fun with friends, plenty of chatter and so on. I’m not saying we should never ban cell phones at public venues. It makes sense during an intimate seated show, a quiet tune or a formal setting, but not a nightclub. … The idea of being at a club or a public event, standing around and not being able to silently share seems almost old-fashioned to me.

Besides the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever been to a nightclub with a cappuccino machine, his argument checks out. It is a free country, and Boilen’s not suggesting we elbow each other to the front of the stage to get the perfect cell-phone shot. As someone who frequently attends shows to write about them and therefore needs to remember them adequately, taking photos and tweeting is something I’m pretty much required to do, even though I feel sheepish whenever it comes time to actually raise my iPhone above my head and wave it around for a semi-decent shot. I’m apparently not alone on being torn, as pointed out in SF Weekly‘s recent list of ways music fans are hypocrites. (Similarly, we’re proud when we come up with a joke to tweet at a show, but get mad when we see others with their heads buried in their phones.) But in fact, wanting to capture the moment forever, or at least until your iPhone dies, generally signifies being a fan. Boilen mentions the incessant chatter that’s been rippling through audiences here in New York, and evidently other cities as well, pegging it as more of a distraction to the artist and fellow audience members than any clicking of a camera, which is an argument I can 100 percent buy into. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop all that talking during the show, ok? It’s rude, and it makes us all look like jerks, only fueling more “careless hipster” jokes that aren’t even funny to begin with.

As for those photographers with the fancy cameras who are also just trying to do their jobs so we can have these pretty reminders of what we experienced (speaking of which, an exhibit of BrooklynVegan photography will be on display at 92Y Tribeca in August) we, the concert-going public, just ask that you don’t stand in one spot the whole time. If you’re going to block our view for one song, we can handle it; if it’s for the whole show, not so much. Also, it’d be nice if you said “excuse me” while making your way around us to get in front. That is all.

For more soapbox musings, follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.

One Comment

  • He’s right in the sense that you can’t really expect the same politeness/rules of a movie theater or stage play be followed in a rock club (not that said rules are remotely followed in those environments, though they should be), but I’m given pause anyone complains ABOUT people complaining about rudeness. That is to say, a fair number of people (though I wouldn’t say a majority) are pretty fucking inconsiderate in public, so if the thing that really gets your goat is an artist saying “please don’t take pictures while I’m playing; I and others might find it distracting,” well, I don’t know, that seems pretty churlish. Like, I’m sure there are people who are over-quick to SHHHHHH in movie theaters, too. But they’re far outnumbered by the people who can’t stop talking/texting/etc., so it doesn’t really strike me as a similar annoyance.

    And while I realize he didn’t quite make the “come on, man, this is rock and roll, and you’re going to hassle me with your RULES?” argument, well, in case anyone would: is there anything less punk rock than fussing about with your camera for half the show so you can take pictures that look the same as (or worse than) every other photo on the web.

    Not that M. Ward is punk rock, of course. But it can make shows feel like weird exhibits rather than perfromances. Though it’s not as bad as endless chatter, agreed. I saw Slow Club at the Bell House last winter and a bunch of people in the front talked NONSTOP through it, even though many of their songs are relatively quiet. How do these people even hear of Slow Club and decide to go to a show and stand in the front?

    But I do find the sea of cell phones and screens held aloft during most performances (especially those with a cute girl in the band; oh, man, Rilo Kiley shows, so many pictures) a little annoying. I try to restrict my photo-taking to outdoor shows with more room and better light (to reduce constant futzing).

    Also, I wish there was an easy way to tell when someone with a fancy camera is actually press, because I’ve often been suspicious that I’m stepping out of the way and making room for someone who isn’t so much a journalist as someone who happens to own a really nice camera. In which case, maybe get here earlier if you want to spend most of the show taking pictures.