Photography Continued

02009-07-29 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

We are in Salt Lake City today, on our way to Denver.

Let me start by telling you how I feel about the audience taking photos at our concerts, and then I will respond to some of the comments to the post Monday in Spokane.

I receive a number of emails every year from people asking whether they may take photos at our concerts. I have been on the fence about the issue for years, but have recently noticed a stronger feeling against photography at concerts. My experience in Newport Beach at the beginning of the tour is one of the reasons for that. When I go to the merchandise table after a show, I sign CDs, T-Shirts, tickets, scraps of paper. I don’t mind staying for as long as it takes to go through the entire waiting line. A few years ago a few people started to want a photo with me. No problem, glad to do it. If only every 20th person wants a photo, it will only add an extra 15-30 minutes to the signing. At Newport Beach this year, not only did EVERYONE want a photograph, they were also pretty demanding and even rude about it (((pulling on my shirt etc.))). Suddenly we are looking at a very long event… If a few people want a photo with me – no problem. If everyone wants a photo there are two possible outcomes:
– I don’t go to the merch table, because it’s taking too much time and holds up our loading and leaving. And I don’t think it’s right to set a time-limit, because there are bound to be fans who have waited in line and are rightfully upset because they didn’t get to talk to me.
– We use a minimum merch purchase rule, where an audience member does not get a photo unless they have purchased a CD or a t-shirt or a hat. That will make the line shorter, but feels weird to me.

Now, what happens when everybody in the audience takes photos of the concert, when everyone moves around in their seat to frame the best shot, when nobody can sit still for fear of missing a good photo opportunity?

With that in mind, please do not ask me whether you may take photos at our concerts. Because, if you ask me the answer is no. If you bring a camera and the venue lets you take photos, that’s one thing, but please don’t ask me… and, I will no longer hand out photo-passes to fans, as I sometimes did in the past.

Photographing events can be great fun. When I was 17, and in artschool, I wanted to take photos of theater, but I did not want to go to theater performances with my noisy SLR. I contacted a number of theaters in Cologne and discovered that there was a program that allowed people to attend the final dress rehearsals in many different theaters. I added my name to a database and received a monthly list of dress-rehearsals. I saw many splendid plays, and was able to photograph them without disturbing the audience. (((utterly meaningless tangent, but maybe bands could take a moment at the end of a show to pose for photos onstage…)))

It’s like everything else, we don’t need rules for a few people, but more and more rules for more and more people. A century ago, when there were only few cars in our cities, there were no traffic rules. People drove on the left side, the right side, and in the middle. Eventually rules and laws had to be established and traffic lights were developed. In Philly red meant go and green meant stop. In New York green meant go and red meant stop. When only a few people have cameras, photography is not a problem. If everyone has a camera, and especially when everyone has a phone with a built-in camera, photography can become a problem. At some point hi-res audio and video recording might be built into sunglasses or goggles. Maybe some people will choose to record their life 24/7 (((whose going to watch all of that stuff??? And, is that the new twist on Orwell’s 1984?? I mean, why spy on the population when you can get the population to spy on themselves through massive video and image collection?))), maybe we’ll call those people goggle-heads (((sounds like bobble-heads, but not as entertaining))).

yumi Says: July 28th, 2009 at 17:40
That’s amazing, the various opinions on taking photos at a show. Dance, opera, theater…photos are usually never allowed of the performance, especially in an opera house. Dancers, actors…their image and the distraction of a camera in a theater would be terrible…

Well, maybe musicians don’t have to concentrate on what they are doing, while actors and dancers do? ;-)

Brenda Says:
July 28th, 2009 at 13:55
Is it the “norm” for the Venue to Promote or the Artist performing to Promote? Or combination of both? I believe the Photo Policy should be printed on the Ticket and all Promotional Material prior to the curtain going up.

Sometimes the venue is the promoter, as is the case with most Performing Arts Centers or House of Blues venues. Most of the time a concert is arranged and promoted by an event producer such as LiveNation (((22,000 events per year!))) or by indie promoters who have relationships with one or more venues in their city. We (((Luna Negra Music))) have never promoted a show.

Photo policy on tickets? Maybe. That could be a good idea. Will people read it and if they read it will they accept it?

Will Says: July 28th, 2009 at 18:27

Seeing vs. Hearing, Hearing vs. Seeing…. It is now a requisite that all the Surgery Suites in hospitals we design/build have an ipod/mp3 dock connected to in ceiling speakers. Some doctors concentrate more or get into a “groove” while listening to music. It was shocking the first time I walked into an OR to find the doctor jamming to Fleetwood Mac while doing surgery.

Maybe the music can tweek the mind of the photographer to different shots and angles. Get in a groove of sorts.

I have heard from many surgeons and dentists across the country that they operate to my music. I remember a surgeon in Florida buying signed CDs for every doctor in his department after our performance at the Jacksonville Theater :-)

Yes, music will tweek the mind of the photographer… but let’s use that during photoshoots and not during concerts! Again, I want to repeat this: the occassional photographer is not a big deal, but when everyone is a photographer it is going to be a huge problem.

LindaW Says: July 28th, 2009 at 18:55
Ottmar: I understand what you mean by a concert being a communal event. The Lensic show was this for me. There was one point just after intermission that you took the stage alone. You played, I did not recognize the song but listening was like being one with the room, the guitar, with your thoughts and the feeling put into the playing. Absolutely incredible! (thanks again for this one)

Thanks Linda. How much of that experience was due to the fact that you didn’t take photos and were fully present? That piece contains a fair amount of improvisation and tends to change from concert to concert. An attentive audience will always be a more fertile ground for such a piece of music to develop and blossom. I have played the piece for audiences who were busy talking or taking photos and it never turned out very well, no mater how hard I tried!

Kaz Says: July 28th, 2009 at 19:41
Wow! Looks like a picture perfect debate we got going here!! Very interesting! Paparazzi Fever! ;)


Boris Says: July 29th, 2009 at 00:28
I would say that there is no doubt that an Ottmar Liebert concert is much more enjoyable and enriching when you don’t think about taking photos. When you have a nice seat, lean back, and let the music, the acoustic, the live experience work on you.

At the same time there are people who are not able to make this experience. Maybe they made it once. And maybe they will never do. For those it’s a wonderful bonus to see on photos what happens during a show. For a long time I was not able to attend a show. The Opium DVD was enticing. So I’m very thankful that there were people sharing – and still some are.

Of course this is taken to another level when a pro like Colleen takes and publishes such wonderful impressions of a show!

In an ideal situation, we could have a photographer travel with us. Would not work at every venue and might not work at all, but it is an interesting idea. Especially a photographer with access to the side of the stage. Would be nice to have an image base like this!

Carmen Ortiz Says: July 27th, 2009 at 21:53
It seems like a great idea to have a professional photographer take photos where one can purchase them. If there was a professional photographer at the two shows I saw Ottmar + Luna Negra, I would have purchased them. Why? The pictures that would have any meaning for me would be the pictures where I was in attendence at the show…not just any picture.

I think NIN have images from their shows for sale. Their fanbase is huge and might very well be big enough to support the photographer traveling with them. I don’t know. Here is another thought about Newport Beach. It might have something to do with the economy. I don’t know what tickets were going for in Newport Beach, but maybe the price of the ticket plus the cost of the liquor consumed meant that a lot of the people didn’t want to spend money on merchandise and figured they would just snap a photo. They probably would not have purchased images from the show. What is also interesting, however, is that this seems to have been an isolated case. All other audiences have been different. Is Orange County an exception or a harbinger of the future?

I don’t have definitive answers. Not regarding file-sharing, not regarding concert-photography. I think the music business will go through a lot of changes. I think it will take time to figure this out collectively. I think it has to become a cultural decission. I know I don’t want to play guitar for a bunch of people hiding behind lenses or recording devices. Maybe it’s my problem. Maybe I should keep my eyes closed throughout the show and simply imagine an attentive audience. But, I think that won’t really work either because one can sense it in the energy of the room.

Thanks to DK for the Downhill Battle link, which he found on Robert Fripp’s Diary. The Downhill Battle site is from 2004, but many things still ring true. I have discussed voluntary collective licensing or a ISP music tax on my diary more than once – see here.

Now I gotta get out of this air-conditioning… later.


  1. dave

    Personally, I prefer to try to be in the moment at a concert & taking a picture interrupts that. Plus I would feel self-conscious about interrupting the show for others.

  2. Carol

    I still have such vivid pictures and memories of each moment of you in my mind from the experiences I had at your concert and getting to meet you, I wouldn’t have needed or wanted a camera to interfere.


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