Beyonce 2013
Beyonce 2013

Don't Shoot the Photographer

You’ve got to applaud the Quebec newspapers boycott of those goofy photo contracts that seem to appear at every turn from celebrity musicians. We have arrived at a stand-off between bands and event photographers and management teams intent on controlling coverage as music gets to be more about money and power, rather than content.

I’ve been at concert photography a good thirty years and have witnessed the good and bad. The good – most of the marginal hangers-on who shot for sport – are now gone and, mostly, the talented gain front stage access. The over-crowded lens pit has been emptied!

The battle over who owns what and who gets to censor is heating up mostly out of public view as sophisticated “smartphoners” snap away and everyday “selfie” collectors shoot at will and post the most dreadful images.

I’ve endured the Beyonce clamp down. Even had a lens taken away by security who said it was beyond the acceptable size for my camera. I did manage to snap eight to ten concert images. Here’s the keeper, no one cares. The photos that count are those that people have an emotional attachment to. Beyonce is a throw-away, a brief click, look and toss. No one cares anymore.

The magic is gone – the mystique is no longer there. So when a Dave Grohl demands ownership and control – why sign? There’s no value to that photo. There may be value to catching him flee on foot while being chased by a woolly mammoth, but that won’t be displayed in any fine art galleries.

Taylor Swift? There are at least a 150 billion cell phone snaps floating around. Do we need another?

I thought I’d ask a few fabulous photographers who endure the daily bullshit – who with skill and passion make the artist look spectacular — and get their take on the deteriorating state of concert photography in the age of the posturing Kardashians. Here’s what they have to say:


DAVID LEYES (Rolling Stone Magazine, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Molson Amphitheatre)

I understand the artist’s concern regarding images that they have no control of and the ever increasing ability for those images to get used and sent anywhere — but I think the restrictions are going way too far. What's the point of taking an image if you don't own it — and can't reuse?

Unfortunately, some media outlets can't afford NOT to have an image of certain artists. It's nice to see the Quebec media fighting back. Perhaps if everyone did it might start changing a few things.

Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the case. I think in the future the artists will simply appoint their own photographers and sell to the media outlets. Total control — and what's stopping the media from asking fans to submit their own images? When shooting Cyndi Lauper and Cher I was asked to sign a two page contract for Cyndi, but nothing for Cher. The representative from Cher’s camp thought they were worthless.


TOM SANDLER (Maclean’s, Getty Images, The Hollywood Reporter)

That’s quite the article. It's a complex situation. I was shocked to hear the part about confiscating equipment and possibly injuring the shooter and shooter or media have no recourse? Are they serious? — Altamont revisited, that's not legal I'm sure. What about the 50-100,000 cell phone users posting to social media? I mean, let’s look at the whole picture. Social media, or "anti" social media as I like to call it, has changed the playing field. SM has become the media now. The reach is so huge perhaps artists and promoters don’t need mainstream guys. However, the papers do have a mandate to cover "news." I think a reasonable balance has to be found. Media sends back contracts with their requirements which don't seem unreasonable to me. Promoters should meet them half way. I guess time will tell how much the mega artists and promoters need the mainstream media these days. Have any artists lost big sums of money from accredited media cashing in on the images? Doesn't the artist get mega PR if shots go out after the fact? It's a huge benefit. Wonder what Getty thinks of this? Contracts are designed to benefit BOTH parties. Talk to you later — what a world!


JOHN ROWLANDS (The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson)

Freelance photography involving stage performers is following the route of the DODO BIRD and fast becoming extinct. Just as a new artist doesn't have radio around to break their first hit record the creative freelance interpretations of photographers for established acts is being restricted and controlled with the same fear that American tribal Indians believed in, that if your eyes are in a photograph the photographer has stolen your soul!

Toby Keith's media relations people think so, Taylor Swift thinks so and the list grows on. Many of these well-wired computer-armed agencies can track a photographer and come back years later with a denial to shoot because you took shots of "said artist" and used them on a radio station's website without permission. Take them down or no access for whomever you're working for now.

Back in the day, an artist was happy to have a talented ‘photog’ doing freelance assignments and showing them in their best light. Now, you have to be shooting for People Magazine and delivering 20 million readers before you get their attention. I was lucky when I started 55 years ago. My work was appreciated and used in every way management, the artists, the record companies, magazines and newspapers could dream up as a positive reflection of the personality and their talents. That path no longer exists.

Where is this all going? We'll have to wait and see. But in the meantime I'll continue to show up and request permission to shoot for my interested publications and their readership of fans and interested followers, and if the answer after hours of waiting is "NO," then I'll try some shots from the public access viewpoint or do a story like this one being a small pixel in an array of digital madness or go home believing that shooting this act "wasn't meant to be", and hope I can stretch my pension cheque a bit farther for not getting the shots like I used to.


KRIS KING (Jazz Journalists Association awarded King with the 'Jazz Photo of the Year Award 2009' for the 'Hank Jones at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2008' photo.)

I have been a professional concert photographer for thirty years and the past number of years have brought about a new issue concerning my craft. I have been asked to sign rights-grabbing contracts by more and more artist management companies in order to photograph their artist. If I don't sign, I am not allowed to photograph.

For me personally, I just don't sign them. I don't care if I shoot their artist or not. I always 'just say no', I'm not willing to sell my soul to the devil for money, never mind give my work away, rights and all to a greedy artist and their management team to do whatever they please — as most contracts now say they want 'all' photos shot of their artists. It's those same artists who are screaming about THEIR SONGS (COPYRIGHT) being stolen so the utter absurdity of them making a claim to outright OWN our creative work IN PERPETUITY is ludicrous and beyond comprehension. 

And with no compensation offered, they seem to feel they are doing us a favour by allowing us to photograph their artists when, in reality, it's the other way around; without photographs or video of their artists they could easily slide into obscurity or without press coverage as witnessed this week by Quebec newspapers who in unison cried foul and refused to sign those rights-grabbing contracts, resulting in NO COVERAGE AT ALL for their artist. It is my personal hope that other major media will follow suit and stop this absurd practice. It's theft, pure and simple. 

When hundreds of thousands of people at a concert are shooting bad video and photos with their cell phones and then post all over social media for the world to see, wouldn't it make sense to have PROFESSIONAL photographs and videos out there instead? 

Pretty much ALL of the requests to sign these contracts come from American management companies who may not be aware of our most recent Canadian Copyright Laws maintaining that photographers own the copyright and the moral rights. 

"The Copyright Modernization Act has rectified this aberration in the former Copyright Act. As of November 2012, photographers are the first copyright owners of the works they produce. Regardless of whether the work is a work of art, a personal work or the result of a commercial order, the photographer automatically owns the copyright and the moral rights."


JOHN DAVIDSON (Art Photographer – teaches advanced Darkroom & Digital Photo at Durham College. Known for his brilliant captures of Joni Mitchell.)

I just read the article by Chantal Braganza; enlightening but not altogether surprising.

Being a musician yourself, I am sure you must have very strong opinions — from both sides!

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, on several occasions I have witnessed “photographers” in media areas (not sure where accreditation came from) making somewhat of a spectacle of them and actually taking away from the performance on stage. I completely understand a negative response from the musician’s perspective here.

But this article does not reference this attitude. They want a form signed that puts restrictions and a time limit on publication. Additionally, the future use of said images for portfolio use, or promotional purposes, is, to me, the real thorn here.

Personally, I agree with La Presse, Le Journal de Montreal, Irish Times etc: Don’t sign any of these contracts!


EDMUND YEE (Globe & Mail, Toronto Star – currently at Aden’s Camera.)

I'm appalled that these management companies can enforce these rules and stipulations for photographers and know that every artist owns the copyrights to his/her works and cannot be transferred without the artist’s permission. The best case is everyone boycotts when these contracts are presented and walk away. I walked away from two contracts when I was hired to shoot the last two Madonna concerts, as she has the same stipulations and she wants the copies of the files as well. 


KEVIN MASON ( Washington D.C. Has covered every major jazz event the past twenty years.)

For me, photography has always been about capturing that one moment that can't be repeated — when time stood still. That moment belongs to me — my point of view, though I may share it with others for money or for free. At that moment all rights to that image belong to me. And it should be my right as the creator to control it or offer it for possible compensation. As a concert photo pro for over 20 years, I've never taken the access I get for granted and I try to adhere to all rules and be mindful of the concert patron while working. If any publicist or manager doesn't want his or her artist photo taken, I don't take it but they should not ask me to sign over my rights to any image if they want their artist picture taken. Millions continue to create and steal concert images and music at venues and online daily, because venues and digital platforms allow it — this will never be right.

Real pros are not the problem when it comes to the erosion of image control and published images that are misused. All artists are losing some control over their work because the digital world is easy and available, without restrictions to anyone. Some value of professional creation has been lost with everyone creating — good and bad. All work has some value if just to the person who created it and while I'm here I want control, whenever possible, over my work and where and how I share it.


Final thought:

Wages are a thing of the past for professional photographers. Concert photography is a specialized art form that takes years to understand and technically master. There are few dollars in it for the photographer. It’s more about staying in shape and capturing that moment which eludes most amateurs. Celebrity images in newspapers are void of art — they are drive-by shootings. They pay handsomely when predator photographers nail the story of the moment. A Taylor Swift swinging an acoustic guitar around is worth nothing. A Taylor Swift in a cat-fight — now there’s a payday!


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