ISSUE: The Blogger as Intruder
PERFORMANCE: Pin Drop — Premiere season of a work by Tamara Saulwick at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Seeing red: The Sony F717 still camera has a Nightshot facility which displays two red spots above the lens.
This post is not a review, but an attempt to canvass some issues related to unsolicited blogging and the changing landscape resulting from the ease with which commentary can be aired online these days, via blogs and social networking sites. Unthinkingly, as a regular blogger and photographer of music gigs, I took my trusty old digital camera to a live theatre performance in which the artist, Tamara Saulwick, explored people’s experiences of physical threat, real or imagined.
Of course I did not use a flash, or even the laser focusing facility of which the camera is capable. But I did use Nightshot, which projects an invisible infra-red beam to permit images in quite dark conditions. I was very careful not to allow any light to spill out from the camera viewfinder, and there was no noise, so I do not think anyone in the audience would have known I was taking pictures. But I forgot that the two pale red lights above the lens would be visible to the performer. As a result, ironically in view of the content of this work being related to fear, Saulwick was worrying throughout her performance (the final in this season) about who was filming or taking photographs and to what purpose they might be put. Some language used, from conversations recorded, was graphic, and I can understand that Saulwick would not want such material appearing on YouTube or similar media, possibly out of context.
Saulwick pointed out later that there is an assumed culture in theatre that photography is not appropriate, and, though there were no signs or verbal directives to that effect, I am not disputing that it was unacceptable to cause grief to an artist during a performance. I did not think of the small, pale lights caused by Nightshot, probably because I am always behind the camera and I do not usually take photographs in such dark conditions.
No controversy so far. But Saulwick raised the issue of intellectual copyright, saying “Artists want to have control over who takes images of their work and then which of those images are released into a public sphere.” Saulwick also said Pin Drop images were “a critical component in the future life of the work and how it is marketed”, so she would not want me to post any images of the performance without her agreement.
I won’t be posting any images of this thought-provoking and at times unsettling exploration of how people experience threat. But this experience set me thinking about wider issues.
I always try to take photographs at music gigs without annoying performers or the audience, making sure the camera is silent. I get annoyed when people with bulky and noisy digital SLRs move around in front of the crowd, obscuring the view and interfering with the sound. But what do the performers think? Are the musicians I photograph really getting annoyed when I use the laser-focus in low light (much different from Nightshot, because it does does show as a red beam for a second on the person playing)? Should I be seeking permission before taking photographs? I have never had complaints, but perhaps the musicians are too polite to say anything (I’m thinking of someone such as Scott Tinkler here — he’s so reticent).
The issue raised by Saulwick is broader. Do performers (including actors and musicians) have a right to control all images related to their work, or even all communications, such as reviews, which may affect how a concert or performance is marketed and the image it presents to the public? Is anyone who attends a performance free to comment publicly (eg on a blog) about that performance? This a broad question.
When Bernie McGann played at Uptown Jazz Cafe recently, I’m told by Sonny that he was playing his old horn and was messing with the timing and altering the way pieces were played. But if someone who did not know his work failed to pick up those subtle changes, they could conclude that McGann was merely playing “the same old stuff” and publish that online. Similarly, when Paul Grabowsky and Jamie Oehlers get together to play some standards (on the album On a Clear Day), their depth of understanding may be more apparent to listeners who know their work really well, but not to others. What if the uneducated, the great unwashed, are out there reviewing away on blogs and Facebook etc? Do musicians potentially have a grievance?
On the other hand, do we want a world in which our artists are protected by spin doctors as efficient as the guardians of Julia Gillard and Tony (R)Abbott? If all the images of a concert are those carefully chosen, vetted and approved by the artists and publicists, will the public miss some of the excitement associated with the rough edges of a performance, the moments of magic and electricity that can be captured in a glance or a grimace? I know sometimes musicians can look a bit weird if caught at an inopportune moment, and their “spin managers” — should they have any — would probably prefer that some images never see the light of publication. But how vulnerable do musicians feel when faced with what Shannon Barnett has dubbed “the sneaky camera” of Roger Mitchell or others?
To broaden this further, when Kenny Weir starts a food blog Considerthesauce, has he the right to post reviews of food that he eats because it is the public’s right to know, or should he be accredited as a food critic worth his salt, or at least ask permission?
That’s about it, folks. I raise these issues hoping that musicians at least will not bombard me with abuse that they have long been suppressing about the frequent camera in their faces at the local haunts of jazz and improvised music. But my silly attempt to take my camera to Pin Drop has prompted some doubts. What I have regarded as a means of capturing the spirit or live music may be merely a nuisance. Don’t all agree at once!