Editor’s Box from fRoots 232 (October 2002)
Along with some fabulous music, the atmosphere at festivals this year did seem to be particularly good. Except for down in that little two metre wide strip in front of the stage …

Great photographic images have often captured the atmosphere and memories of live music. But I’m glad I’m not a working photographer at events any more. Every year we send hapless hard-working professionals out to capture the moment for our pages, but their job is now being made so ridiculously difficult that we may soon have to stop.

Here in over-regulated UK plc, dumb security macho has been growing, with the gorillas now running the zoo. More and more restrictions are being placed on photographers who are not only making an important historic record, but providing artists, promoters and media with priceless promotional material. Some of it makes sense: obviously the less distraction the better, so there are few who would argue with rules which say no flash photography, no access to the stage itself, or are designed to keep bodies out of the way of television tracks. But experienced working professionals don’t cause those problems.

One humiliating game is called “first three numbers only”, after which photographers get bodily ejected, and it was being enforced widely and unthinkingly this year. So great historic photographs like that iconic hands-linked Newport Folk Festival finale shot or the famous award-winning Clash LP cover couldn’t get taken now, not by a pro anyway. We’ve even seen situations in concert halls where the entire audience is on its feet dancing and firing off flash snaps while pro photographers have been forcibly removed after the opening songs. At one festival this year, our man was marched outside to stand in the pouring rain with his cameras after the first three numbers of each set!

So who has decided to impose this stupidity? Some promoters have blindly accepted the advice of security companies. ‘Security’ trotted out the excuse that it was demanded by the artists, but we couldn’t find a single artist or manager who had put in such a specific request.

Everybody, I’m sure, has experienced a gig being ruined by some lout with the latest technology, flash units and screaming motor drives, clambering all over the stage and blocking the view of the audience. No problem: throw them out. Specialist pro music photographers aren’t like that. In fact I’ve had far more concerts disturbed lately by blundering security staff hauling inconspicuous photographers out. And while it’s clearly not sensible to fill the area in front of the stage with an unrestricted mass of jostling lenspeople, why ban everybody? It’s that baby and bathwater syndrome.

So here are two ideas to prevent live roots music photos going the way of the dodo. Firstly: musicians, managers, support fellow skilled artists who are trying to earn a living. Write it into your contract riders that known photographers with prior clearance should be allowed front of stage access throughout the show. Secondly: promoters, reclaim your events from dumb security staff. Question the logic of the rules being imposed in your name. Grant full access to a small number of known specialist pro photographers with a feel for the music. You can always take their pass away if they screw up, but I can guarantee they won’t.

All this is part of a wider problem. There are two big festivals and a number of venues that I simply don’t go to any more as a punter because of rude, stupid security staff or pointless restrictions. Whatever happened to ‘goodwill’, promoters? And what are readers’ recent experiences?

Ian Anderson


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