Recently, Prince became the latest high-profile musician to ban photography at a live performance. Those in attendance at a surprise appearance in New York City were greeted at the door with a sign that lists the “Purple Rules,” which prohibited photos, videos, and cell phones.
From megastar Beyoncé to indie darlings She and Him and über-guitarist-rocker Jack White, musicians (or perhaps their management or the venue, rather) are not only asking fans to put their cameras away, but are starting to enforce bans on photography and videography. They argue that it takes away the enjoyment of being at a live performance, as well as being a nuisance to the performers and other concertgoers. (Or is it really about money? Maybe they are worried that fan-made videos will hurt ticket sales – why go to a concert or buy the music if you can get it online?) People recording concerts isn’t new (how else do you think bootleg cassettes were made?), but the proliferation of smartphones that can capture good-quality photos and videos – which then can be uploaded to YouTube – have made it more of a common occurrence. Do cameras and smartphones take the fun out of concerts, or is it an inevitable new form of social experience that artists need to come to terms with? From the photos and videos we’ve seen online, it’s going to be hard to enforce any sort of ban without confiscating cameras.
Here are a few artists who have put the kibosh on picture taking.
When fans showed up for a surprise performance at City Winery in New York City, they encountered a sign informing them that photography, videography, and cell phone use were not allowed. “These rules will be strictly enforced and violators will be asked to access another experience.” How strict? According to the Gothamist, phones were being ripped from people’s hands when they were caught trying to record the performance, and they were escorted out if they didn’t comply. Gothamist editor Ben Yakes, who was in the audience, wrote, “I didn’t really feel the desire to take out my phone – Prince and his merry band of horn blowers masterfully kept my brain and legs fully engaged… I couldn’t take my eyes off of the stage.” But apparently the ban wasn’t 100-percent effective, as a few images and videos of the performance made it online.
This wasn’t the first time photography was banned at a Prince performance. When he played at a similar surprise concert at the City Winery location in Chicago, the same rules were listed and guards were sent into the crowd with the sole purpose of enforcing the ban.
We’re not sure if it was Mrs. Carter who ignited this sudden push to ban photography at concerts, but she (or was it alter ego Sasha Fierce) did make a big stink about it. After unflattering images of her performing at this year’s Super Bowl were published (these were shot by pros covering the concert) and an unsuccessful attempt by her publicist to have them removed, Beyoncé decided to ban professional photographers from her tour, with the thinking that this will prevent bad photos from making it to the press. (Instead, her team would send out preapproved images to the media.) The plan backfired, naturally. Although cameras weren’t allowed, fans were able to shoot the performance with the phones. Photo agencies paid these fans for their photos, and as Fstoppers rightly puts it, “Now not only is the mainstream media showing unflattering photos of her, they are showing bad-quality unflattering photos of her.”
She & Him
Actress, singer, and vegan Zooey Deschanel may be the cutest artist of the moment, but she doesn’t want your camera phone capturing all that cuteness. At a recent tour stop in Toronto with her band She & Him, Deschanel (She) and musical-half M. Ward (Him) placed a sign that read, “At the request of Matt and Zooey, we ask that people not use their cell phones to take pictures and video, but instead enjoy the show they have put together in 3D.” Although the sign comes off as polite and gives a reason for why fans might want to enjoy the experience sans phone, according to PetaPixel a concertgoer tweeted, “Security guards…are now flashing flashlights in the faces of fans in the first few rows who dare pull out their phones.”
Being so sweet, we can’t imagine Deschanel would ever want to deny her fans of anything, but perhaps she was under the influence of Ward, who prohibits photography at his solo shows (his henchmen have been known to wander through the crowd, enforcing the ban).
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Or No No Nos when it comes to concert photography (OK, that was bad, but roll with it), indie rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t like it when fans use their cell phones and cameras during the performance. “Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen, and Brian. Much love and many thanks!” Here’s the thing: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are actually pretty cool about it. Before they really got into the set, lead singer Karen O told the crowd they could take photos during the first few minutes. According to Spin, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs received overwhelming support on Twitter.
If you would allow this personal interjection, I’m a fan of Björk, but I don’t think I could ever get close to her. After all, she’s still famous for beating up a reporter during a stop in Thailand, so you’re not going to catch me breaking the rules during any of her concerts. At this year’s Bonnaroo festival, a sign at Björk’s performance said, “At the Artist’s request please refrain from taking photographs or recording images. This is distracting to Björk and she would encourage you to please enjoy being part of the performance and not preoccupied with recording it. Images from this show will be available on www.bjork.com. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.” Sounds reasonable enough, and thank goodness she made photos available, cause otherwise we would have missed the fantastic-and-outrageous wardrobe.
The Black Crowes
In 2010, fans attending the Black Crowes’ “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour were told this: “The Black Crowes will no longer allow cameras into the venue. Additionally, photos will not be permitted to be taken with camera phones or any other device during the show. Absolutely no cameras (still or video) or audio equipment will be permitted inside the soundcheck party.” Fans were pissed, especially since the band didn’t seem to care before. However, the band was still okay with people taping audio. We’re guessing that meant an old Sony Walkman?
Instead of a straightforward, plainly worded “no photography” sign like Prince’s, post-punk group Savages decided to be a bit more prophetic in their language. “Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music. We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. Let’s make this evening special. Silence your phones.” (That last bit is a play on their new album, “Silence Yourself.”) We suppose you can catch more flies with honey, but we’re not sure if everyone will abide by it just because you ask nicely. That’s why you hire security guards.
(Artists images via Prince/Minneapolis Star Tribune; Beyonce/Mario Anzuoni/Reuters; She & Him/Autumn de Wilde; Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Dan Martensen; Björk/Danny Clinch; The Black Crowes; Savages/Richard Johnson/NME)
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