Opinion: In defence of the mobile phone at gigs

Opinion: In defence of the mobile phone at gigs

Mykki Blanco / credit: Steve Stills

Demise of the music photographer or unforgettable memento?

There’s a common gripe within the music community these days: 'What happened to actually experiencing the music?' From middle-aged technophobes to self-righteous hipsters to even the musicians themselves, it’s almost become a stigma to be seen holding your phone or camera in the air, as opposed to, say, your lighter or fist. You may even, secretly or not, hold this belief yourself.

And you’d have a point.

As human beings, it’s natural that we want to be able to hold on to our treasured moments, and for many people gigs prove to be the very essence of this. To relive the sweat, mania and utter euphoria of seeing your favourite musicians live is something that everyone takes pleasure in, yet it’s true that by vigorously focusing on capturing the experience, we aren’t experiencing the moment as it happens; it ends up passing us by as it gets recorded onto our cameras.

But is this vilification really justified? Sure, you get the odd person who goes overboard on how many videos and images they capture (worse still if their constant attempts end up obscuring the view of someone standing behind them), but they seem to be in the minority, and they’re probably standing somewhere up the back anyway. In fact, by having your phone or camera out anywhere close to the front of the stage you’ll very much run the risk of losing it in all the chaos – make no mistake, people, the beauty of live music has not been lost to technology. There’s an argument to made it’s even enhanced it in some ways.

Being able to record gigs means being able to capture instances that are totally unique to those performances – an interaction between bandmates, for example, or a moment of intimacy between musician and audience; moments that can make a gig that little bit more special. Social media also allows us to share these moments with fellow fans who may have missed out on tickets or who want to get a feel for the experience themselves. Sure, there’s usually always a professional photographer there who’ll take some really great shots, but at the end of the day it’s the images you catch yourself that resonate the most.

And what of the professional photographers? I had a chat with music photographer Patrick Gunning about how he and his fellow photographers feel about the use of non-professional cameras at gigs.

'To be honest I don't mind cameras and phones at gigs too much. I think when it comes to being a photographer at a show you aren't really worried about someone in the crowd using their phone or camera to take some pictures.'

While Gunning is aware of the notion that the use of mobile phones will mean 'the demise of the music photographer', he is certain this isn’t the case.

'Being a photographer relies on being able to take good pictures consistently, especially for concerts [where] you need to be able to think on your feet, move around a lot and try to capture that split second movement your subject makes. It’s almost impossible to do the same thing with a phone, or a standard camera, especially from the crowd.'

So there you go. Sure, we get how obnoxious it can be seeing people watch a band through their mobile screens. But so long as they remain respectful towards those around them and the band themselves, is there really anything wrong with wanting to create a few good memories of what could be one of the best gigs of their life? As they say: everything in moderation.