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For some reason, 2011 seems to be the year during which concert photographers have made unfortunate headlines for being the victims artist stage rage.
The most recent headline-making episode went down on Wednesday night in New York as photographer Rebecca Smeyne explains what happened in her account of the incident with Matisyahu via Papermag:
…After 12 flash shots over a few minute period (the camera gives me this data), Matisyahu stepped toward me, off the stage. The person in front of me moved and the next thing I knew Matisyahu’s foot was on my face and I fell to the ground. At first I assumed he was trying to crowdsurf, that he wasn’t deliberately trying to step on me. But when I got up, he was in the middle of the audience. When I turned to look at him, he charged at me and attempted to forcefully wrestle the camera away from me. I had the camera strap wrapped around my wrist several times, and I held the body tightly with both hands. Finally, he ripped the external flash off the top of the camera, leaving wires exposed. Suffice to say, this is not an inexpensive piece of equipment, and he had clearly damaged it deliberately. I went to find security, and requested to talk to the manager…
Smeyne goes on to tell her story, and then she posted an update as her and Matisyahu exchanged tweets shortly after the incident:
Matisyahu has tweeted the following in response: “@papermagazine @rebeccasmeyne Sorry about last night. I totally snapped. I wouldn’t call it a kick, more like stepping into the crowd. and being that you’ve shot so many shows you should know how distracting a huge flash in your face is. Seemed like you were there everywhere I turned with that flash. Next time be more sensitive to the performer.”
Knowing how crazy a place the live music experience can be it’s really no surprise that this kind of stuff happens. But there really no excuse for the violence and breaking a photographer’s camera.
What’s the Emotional Damage?
I’ve never personally been the victim of artist stage rage, but I know that whenever I ask Colleen about her experiences she always says that being in the photo pit and shooting concert photography is a swirling mix of fun, exhilaration, fear and anxiety.
And speaking of concert fan fears and emotions, I wonder if photographers who experience these kinds of events develop lasting fears or maybe even post-traumatic stress disorder that follows them to future shows?
This Matisyahu story also reminds me of what I found at one of his concerts and my interview with him in 2010 when we talked about his thoughts and feelings during a live show. During that chat we talked about the “trance-like spiritual state of worship” he goes into during a show and I imagine disrupting that moment of intense worship might have lead to his violent response towards Smeyne.
Sure, you might expect a more peaceful response from a guy like Matisyahu, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that, because stage anxiety and a whole host of other emotions are impacting and driving the performance. So any kind of intrusion to that moment of worship could be viewed as a threat, and instead of flight you get full on and raging fight.
Have You Experienced This Too?
This whole topic of how artists rage on photographers during a show and the emotional implications thereof is one that we’ll continue to explore. And I hope we share more stories like these to better understand the emotional complexities of the situation.
That said, I also hope all you photographers out there stay safe, enjoy the show and get those great shots. We know it’s not easy work and most of the time it ain’t glamorous to slave away in the pit just to get a handful of shots. And most of you, I know, aren’t doing it for the money — it’s truly a labor of love.
If you were at this show or have experience a similar situation, let us know in the comments below and we’ll share your story on a future episode of Live Fix Radio.
As fans we all remember our first concert experience.
But when you decide to cross that line and write about or photograph live music for the first time everything changes.
I’ll always remember the first concert I reviewed.
Though I was excited, nervous and anxious, I can’t say that a riot broke out during the first show I ever covered.
And I’m not sure how I would’ve responded if the crowd started throwing bottles and glasses and the cops came and started beating fans down and cuffing them.
I know what Colleen endured when she photographed the Wu Tang Clan at Rock the Bells 2007. She was caught in the middle as she dodged Hennessey bottles and verbal missiles as the Clan incited and sparred with fans in the first row.
So this year at Rock the Bells 2009, Colleen swapped photo gig stories in the photo pit and heard a compelling “first live concert photo gig” story as she chatted with fellow photographer Jamie Sands.
Necro didn’t show so fans rioted
Jamie’s first photo gig involved shooting Necro, a rapper with an infamous reputation for spitting vicious and brutal rhymes about death and violence. I had heard about the show when AllHiphop.com reported that a riot broke out when the Brooklyn-born artist didn’t show up to the downtown Vancover club. So when Colleen said that Jamie was there, I was hoping he’d share his experience.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Jamie at Rock the Bells, but we connected via email and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it was like that night and how the experience has impacted him since.
What was the vibe like before, during and after the riot?
The vibe before hand was kinda tense. Not because the performer hadn’t shown up, but because this was my first assignment for a publication–nothing a beer or two couldn’t fix though. During the riot was a different story. [The press ] had been informed Necro would not be showing at about 10:45) but they didn’t tell the crowd until 12:15 so by the they made the announcement the crowd had plenty of time to get tired of listening to the DJ and even more time to consume lots of liquor.
Emotionz a local MC came out to announce that Necro would not be there that night and as soon as the first glass was thrown it was pretty much a free for all. I was lucky to have already been informed that he was a no show for the event and ended up taking to higher grounds to avoid having my camera smashed.
After the police arrived people were getting slammed to the floor and pulled out of the club. I stayed and shot photos until I was told to leave the club. I made my way outside and there were police everywhere and a lot of people laying on the ground in cuffs. I shot photos until I was basically removed after shuffling around angry police for a good 20 minutes.
Had you ever been in a situation like this before?
I’ve never been in any sort of situation like this. Since this was my first show where I was there as a photographer, it was all a pretty big shock to me. I go to shows pretty frequently as a regular fan and have never seen anything get out of hand like this did. It was all exciting but I had it in my head that I needed to have like 50 usable images, though I probably shot close to 200 shots of flying chairs, tables and police. I took a lot of photos but there’s a lot of good stuff in there but a lot of useless images, too.
What were you most afraid of?
I didn’t have a lot of thoughts aside from “shoot, shoot, shoot.” I had already gotten to the upper balcony since I was pre-warned about the show so I think my main concern was the police taking my camera or memory card or not getting a usable image for the editor [of ABORT Magazine]. Aside from that the people rioting were the least of my worries.
How has this experience influenced how you shoot or feel during a live music event?
It honestly hasn’t effected the way I feel about shows at all. I still go to shows on a regular basis. It has effected how often I shoot concerts though because after I had submitted my shots, abortmag.com decided to keep me around. It’s given me a huge opportunity to build a portfolio and has really pushed me to better myself as a photographer. I just recently launched my website jsandsphotography.com where I have a whole bunch of photos and update it on a regular basis.
Thanks to Jamie for telling his story and providing the riot photo above. I’m glad he was able to shoot and not get hurt.
I’d like to invite any other photographers to share your concert stories, too. Get more info via Tell Your Story.
As one final video note
There’s a flood of videos on YouTube documenting the Necro riot event from various perspectives, but Jamie provided this video below of the riot as it unfolded and eventually ended up outside.
Warning: I share these videos with you not to shock you. And honestly it pains me to see a riot break out just because an artist doesn’t show up. But the reason I share this video is because it captures the emotions of Jamie’s story. So I hope you enjoy it in that context.
The actual riot footage starts at 3:03 and the video does have language and images that might not be cool for some viewers, so due proceed with caution.