Beyond the Lighted Screen: Watching Concerts through a Lens

We all know that you don’t need an obnoxious flash to take a Facebook-worthy photo. In fact, the advances in cellular technology not only allow crisp and clear flash-less photography, but can also allow the user to do so in a discreet manner. A revelation of this came recently when I saw one of my favorite musicians, David Byrne, and St. Vincent at the Orpheum. Instead of an opening act, the audience was greeted by a recording of David Byrne encouraging people to enjoy the show. However, it’s what followed that really struck me as bizarre: Byrne was fine with people taking photos or videos of the concert, but also said “have fun, but try not to watch the WHOLE show through the screen of an iPad.”

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed the bright shimmer of LED screens flooding venues much in the way that lighters flooded arenas in the 80’s. It’s not terribly hard to come to the conclusion that all of these people are trying their absolute hardest to take the best picture possible, but it’s also clear that they are providing a major distraction to the audience around them.

The thrill and anticipation of seeing a favorite musician or group live is almost unmatched. The price of seeing a show nowadays has increased substantially, making it also a form of investment. The build-up to a concert can be months, so that by the time it actually happens, the excitement is almost overbearing. Because of this, it’s clear why you would want to remember such an event. Bands do offer reminders in the form of concert shirts, posters and other knick-knacks that were made with that show in mind. However, for some, this isn’t enough. Due to the increasing convenience of portable technology, it’s becoming easier to take pictures and record videos at concerts without the intense fear of security confiscation that existed less than ten years ago.

At one point, photography in an enclosed area was a problem for musicians. The main problem was the annoying flash caused by portable cameras that really can’t handle the dimly lit venue. The flash can easily distract musicians in the middle of a song, which is why most ticket stubs clearly emphasize “no flash photography.”

Let’s face it; most people nowadays have a phone that can take a picture to some degree and, because of this, the idea of having the device in public isn’t as alien as it once was. This being said, it’s clear that the amount of cellular devices at a public event like a concert would be so high that any attempt to put a complete stop to usage would be almost futile. In the end, this doesn’t mean that you should exploit this new-found freedom. Not only does it warp the experience for you, but also for the fans around you attempting to have a good time.

Courtesy of Brink of Sanity Show:

When one takes a photo, it’s common to detach from reality and really focus on the aesthetic of the photo. It’s a pretty heavy distraction for something you paid a good amount of money to see in the first place. Sure, you have photographic evidence that you actually did see the band, but at what cost? To get a shot one would find to be proper; it could take a minute or so of focusing, and can result in you missing a song or something else that happened outside of your range of vision.

In a standing crowd, the idea of taking a photo at eye-level is almost impossible if dozens of people the same height as you are standing directly in front of you. The obvious solution to this is reaching up high and taking the picture you desire above the heads of the crowd. The view for the people behind you is clearly obstructed and, if repeated through the show, can certainly lead to some animosity.

Despite what some people may think, there’s not a substantial difference in privilege when it comes to seeing a show, particularly if you’re standing in a pit with hundreds of other fans. Chances are that everyone standing around you paid the same price as everyone else, and had the same drive to see a concert as almost everyone else.

Over a year ago, I got to see The Pixies at the Hampton Casino Ballroom in New Hampshire and I, like many, had a bit of a conflict with someone blocking my view with a cell-phone. I let it slide initially because I respected that they were having fun, but an hour into it, I was a bit ruffled. I politely asked them if they could calm down a bit, to which they responded that they were “the biggest Pixies fan” and how they “were here before me.”  Though those statements may be true, it’s still a rather mean way to inconvenience a fellow fan of your favorite band, don’t you think? The concert experience is not only more enjoyable if the audience is having a great time, but also if you’re present and focusing on the experience as opposed to a quick photographic memory.

Chris Ricci has published articles in the The Beverly Citizen as well as

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