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Camera Obscura: Why Cameras Are Ruining Gig Culture

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Digital cameras are wonderful. The speedy evolution of technology in terms of increased quality and expanded internal capacity (as predicted by Moore's Law) is mind-blowing at times. But like everything else in this world, cameras and camera phones have their place. That place is not a sweaty, excited, deafening gig venue.

A few nights ago, I saw The Black Keys. I went with one of my friends - he and I aren't blessed with the gift of height (and I was wearing heels). We both accept that unless we give up our pre-gig pub ritual, we won't be getting near the front to see. I can deal with that. For me, the emphasis is on being there and soaking up the live gig atmosphere.

Anyway, I digress. We watched the whole 90 minute set through the lenses of two strangers' iPhones. It was too loud to even entertain the idea of asking them to stop. Needless to say, we were both pretty peeved. I go to A LOT of gigs. I average around three to four a month - sometimes more - depending on the time of the year and the length of my pursestrings. This wasn't an isolated incident, by any means. A venue which once radiated warmth from raised lighters is now left cold and soulless by a sea of cameras.

O2 display an interesting advert at The O2 Arena in London, 'Why not lose yourself in the moment rather than your phone?'. An interesting stance considering that their main business is mobile phones - the logical of us would presume they would go all out to encourage people to use their services. A valid point, nonetheless. Who in their right mind wants to spend 90 minutes missing out on the atmosphere of a gig whilst trying to constantly adjust the focus on their cameraphone? You may as well be paying to be sitting in the back row of the highest seats at The O2, because that's precisely the view you're getting from your LCD screen.

What's the result? A grainy, distorted video or blurry photo. Great memories. Something to place on the mantelpiece and really treasure.

Most venues operate a 'no filming, no photography' policy. This is mostly to protect the livelihoods of the photographers who are sent to take pictures of the main act, but also because the constant flashes can be distracting to the band or artist performing on stage. As a teenager, I sang in a lot of bands. I can remember more than one occasion when I was thrown off course by a particularly blinding flash.

This policy is easy to enforce if a fan attempts to stroll inside with a camera and lens the size of a small village, but it's a harder rule to police if a large percentage of the venue patronage are carrying camera phones. And let's face it, these days, that's most of the audience.

Some artists are taking a stand on the issue. Dallas Green of American rock act City And Colour is known to regularly chastise gig-goers at his shows for taking pictures and video. He said at his last London show, "Please refrain from taking pictures and videos on your cellphone or cameras, and just enjoy the music. Sometimes we forget to just live in the moment." He's right. People are so hellbent on capturing their every living moment in life that they often forget to sit back and enjoy it. You can't capture atmosphere on film.

Is the price of gigs a factor in people's desire to capture the whole event on film? Chris T-T recently put forward an interesting theory about the value of gigs: "If you pay so little for something that it's meaningless money - pocket change - then you'll expect it to be worthless and value it as such." Whilst I agree with Chris's stance, the odd thing here, is that the tickets to this particular gig weren't cheap. They were upwards of the £20 mark. Fans want to get their moneys worth - and by that, they feel that videoing or photographing the entire gig is the way to achieve this.

In an ideal situation, bands would step up and make sure that all of their fans were having a good time. It's about having a balance. I would love for filming and photography to be banned outright from shows, but it would be hard to police and probably make a lot of fans resentful. One solution I hit upon was to allow photography and film in a particular segment of the show, for perhaps, two or three songs, much like the arrangement for press photographers. The fans get their photos and the rest of the audience get to enjoy the gig, and 'live the moment'.

...Or ultimately, I could stop going to the pub before a gig and actually make a real attempt to get to the front for an unobscured view.