The Controversy of Cell Phones at Concerts by Miachelle DePiano

Photography BB King for the East Valley Tribune in 2013 was one of my career highlights; no cell phone could have mimicked this. (C) Miachelle DePiano

Photography BB King for the East Valley Tribune in 2013 was one of my career highlights; no cell phone could have mimicked this. (C) Miachelle DePiano

Recently I read an article that Steven Tyler got rather perturbed, to put it mildly, at fans using their cell phones to take pictures or video his concert. He isn’t the first rock star to get more than a titch upset. There is a growing ire at fans using cell phones at concerts, and some performers are using Yondr or other methods to restrict cell phone usage during the show.

Over the years, shooting at different venues as an authorized photographer, I’ve gotten shots ruined with cell phones being raised in the midst of my frame. As I mentioned in my last post, I usually have 2-3 songs, and every second counts.

However, I also go to shows as a spectator.

And as a photographer, going as a spectator, my mind’s eye doesn’t shut down. It’s still working, and it kills me that I don’t have my pro gear with me. So yes, periodically, I whip out my Google Pixel2XL, and I grab a few shots.

So I completely empathize with other fans. Having said that, I see the perspectives of both sides.

If I may take a guess at the audience perspective:

  1. We aren’t just hearing the performer(s). We are experiencing everything about the show visually, too. And sometimes with other senses, depending on the person and the situation.

  2. The performer is powerful and beautiful in their presentation. The performer captures our imaginations and stirs our brains up in ways we don’t experience on a normal basis outside of maybe certain substance use. There is a certain natural urge to solidify that beauty and carry it with us.

  3. Most of us grow up inundated with powerful visuals of performers since we are able to understand imagery and portraiture. It’s difficult to disassociate imagery and the music industry, and not want to capture a piece of our own individual experience.

  4. Speaking of growing up, some of these performers that get irate about cell phones…I hate to say it, but they are now the legends of the industry. To be quite honest, they are precious to most of us, and yeah, we want that photo that says, “ I was lucky, I was there, I saw them.” We know our time to enjoy their talent is drawing near.

Conversely, from the performer perspective:

  1. These people spend long hours on the road, away from loved ones, so they can entertain you and make a living. They are looking for direct feedback and connection with YOU, a human being. Outside of the money they make, that connection with YOU is what helps feed their soul and keeps them doing what they do. They don’t want to look at a sea of cell phones, show after show. Would you? Probably not.

  2. There are pirates out there who illegally sell videos of the concerts or performances, or illegally sell merchandise from trademarked images from these performers. These performers have a right to protect their intellectual property, their creativity, and earn a living from that. They don’t want to risk you being that pirate stealing their livelihood.

  3. It’s one thing to snap a couple of shots, but there is a certain truth to how much are you missing out on when you stand there capturing video of the ENTIRE SHOW, watching the concert through the cell phone screen, in front of the stage?? And yes, I saw this recently at a show I attended. I couldn’t understand how the woman had that much memory on her cell phone.

I don’t pretend to have a solution. I wish concert attendees would use a bit more discretion, common sense and courtesy, and not be so fixated on capturing the entire concert on their cell phone. I also wish performers would remember they used the power of imagery along with the power of their music to climb to the top, and remember the audience experiences their creations on more than one level.

Behind the Scenes as a House Photographer by Miachelle DePiano

Carrie Fisher surprised her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and here they perform a duet. This may have been the last time they performed together. (C) 2014, Miachelle DePiano.

Carrie Fisher surprised her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and here they perform a duet. This may have been the last time they performed together. (C) 2014, Miachelle DePiano.

NOTE: This post is about my experiences, from my perspective. It is written without the involvement or support of any named or pictured entities.

This year marks my seventh year as the house shooter for the Chandler Center for the Arts (CCA). It’s been an amazing journey as a photographer, and watching this particular venue grow and evolve in the talent it brings to Chandler and the Phoenix metro community. I first got introduced to CCA on a magazine assignment to shoot Lori Morgan and Pam Tillis, and patrons attending the show. I had just shot Dave Koz at the Mesa Art Center on assignment as my first concert, and already had the fever for shooting entertainers. I fell in love with CCA; the intimacy of the venue was fantastic, and I loved the architecture of the facility.

Over time, I shot more performers at CCA on assignment, and, noticing I didn’t see a house shooter, I took the opportunity to offer my services. It was good timing. CCA hadn’t had a house shooter for a while and was in need of one, and so our partnership began.

As I watch CCA celebrate its 30th anniversary and I look ahead to the performances coming this season, I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a photographer, especially in the genre of concert photography. I’ve had some amazing experiences, not just at CCA, but in a number of Phoenix venues, large and small. I’ve photographed legends and locals, and my love for the job is the same no matter who the talent is or where the show is.

Photographing a performing artist is double the sensory experience for me. Not only am I listening to music, I’m deeply and intensely visually focused on the artist, anticipating movement and emotion. My adrenaline is rushing, because most of the time, I have 2-3 songs to get the “money shot,” and I might be dealing with other limitations, such as I can only be back by the sound board. Every second matters. I’m maneuvering around the theatre, trying not to interfere with patrons, and likewise trying not to let tall people (I’m 5’4”), cell phones, clapping hands and raised beer cups interfere with my shots. I’m using both my peripheral vision and looking through my camera, anticipating all around me and in front of me. It’s strategic chaos, all for that one shot that conveys the magic and the power of the performer. My favorite scenario is when we have a performer who is photography friendly, such as Marty Stuart. Trivia tidbit about Marty:  he’s a fabulous photographer in his own right and has traveled for years with a film camera, documenting his career.

Buddy Guy lets a patron play the fret board on his guitar at CCA. (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

Buddy Guy lets a patron play the fret board on his guitar at CCA. (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

I often hear how lucky I am. I am lucky, and because of the things I see, I don’t take any of my job for granted. I see the talent behind the scenes on occasion, at their most humane moments, when they aren’t being superstars and are mere mortals. Dealing with life’s challenges like the rest of us, they usually sit quietly, gathering their thoughts, or warming up and preparing for the show ahead. They do what they do because they have a calling, and they give completely of themselves when they step onto the stage. Many of us could not live the way they do, shucking aside life for hours, days and weeks, pouring out their energy out into the audience regardless of anything else going on. On stage, it looks glamorous, as it should. Off stage, it’s usually quiet, allowing the talent to recharge their batteries.

The meet and greets are interesting to observe. As the house photographer, I see all side of the activity. I see the preparation of the staff. I see the excitement of the fans. Hard-earned money is spent for those few minutes to be in the company of a performer they admire. Some people get star-struck; some just quietly come through the line and get their photos taken; and some want to be able to chitchat and have a story to tell their friends. Some performers love spending time with their fans and give of themselves freely, and some have been on the road a long time and are ready to pack up and move on, but know they must meet the fans first. My job is to memorialize that elusive moment for the patrons. At times, I feel like I am that last small closure to the show, because what I do is the proof they were there in the company of that star.

I know concert photography isn’t considered the art form it used to be. Technology, social media, shady merchandising, and paparazzi have all contributed to the degradation of what used to be a symbiotic relationship between the music industry and photographers. Having this gig for seven years has been amazing. When I walk through the doors of CCA, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what magic is going to happen, and I can’t wait to see what “money shot” I will get that night. When I go home, and upload the photos and start culling through them, I’m anxious as I label them red (trash) and green (keep) and five stars (THE ONE). It’s a thrill I can’t convey, and I love doing this job.

Shameless promo here. If you ever become a member of CCA, which I strongly urge you to do, and yes, I am a member, you are entitled to a tour of CCA. Ask to see the Green Room. You’ll see the photo archive on display, most of which is contributed by yours truly.

No Two Artistic Journeys are the Same...or, Doing It My Way by Miachelle DePiano

(C)2018, Miachelle D Photography, “Self-Portrait” Mask by Mindy Timm, Scissored Vixen

(C)2018, Miachelle D Photography, “Self-Portrait” Mask by Mindy Timm, Scissored Vixen

From the time I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. My earliest memories include watching my mother draw. She was phenomenal, whether my opinion is biased or not. Her specialties were pen and ink and pastels. I wanted to be. Just. Like. Her.

So I drew. I colored. I drew some more. As I watched her taken on freelance commercial art projects, or create amazing Native American portraits in pen and ink, I sat near her, drawing, doing my childish best to emulate her.

Fast forward to high school, I was a drawing fiend. Pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, pastel, it didn’t matter. I loved all media. My high school art teacher, whom we’ll call Mr. Rochester for the sake of privacy, was my mentor. There was a small group of super talented artists during my high school years, and it was my one solace as a loner that I was included in that group. I took art all four years, and spent many class periods hanging out in Mr. Rochester’s room when I’d completed work in my other classes, creating something new. I was also on the newspaper and yearbook staffs, and learned film photography, developing, printing, and manual layout methods.

Up until my junior year, I was going to be a commercial artist, just like my mom in my early childhood years. By the time my junior year rolled around, I was disillusioned and disheartened, as are many teens at that age. I began to believe that few people really appreciated what energy and skill it took to make a piece of art, and in my immature search for validation thought I was a failure. I’d also been picked on severely, and resented, no, loathed my social situation. All I wanted was to escape. I’d lost my passion for the idea of being a commercial artist. I didn’t want someone telling what to draw, how to draw it, and giving me creative and time limitations. I didn’t want someone else controlling my ONE FREEDOM from teenage hell.

I had pretty good grades, but not scholarship good. My parents were blue collar workers, and there was no college fund. What’s a skinny, pimply-faced, angry teenager to do?

I joined the Army my senior year, a month after I turned 17. I signed up Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in September of ‘87. I drank a crap ton of water to pass the minimum weight requirement, went to the MEP station, took my physical, signed the contract, and set a departure date for two days after high school graduation. Yeah, I wanted out badly.

I hardly missed a day school. I was THAT geek you hated. I missed one day of school at the very beginning of my freshman year because of mono, and I missed one day my senior year because of going to the MEP station. Mr. Rochester knew something was up when I was absent. I came in the next day, and he asked where I was. Nervously, but excited, I told him what I did.

He was crestfallen.

“What a goddamned waste,” he said, staring me in the eyes. I felt like he sucker-punched me.

“I was going to help you do your portfolio to get into art school. What a waste.”

The rest of the year, Mr. Rochester was harsh in his grading of my projects, and was no longer the friendly, caring mentor I’d looked up to. I felt like I’d lost one of my few friends. But my path was chosen, and I was determined to go.

And go I did.

The Army was nothing like art class. I had one final last experience in the Army relating to my drawing that soured me, and from there my artistic endeavors were on delay for many years. I became what the Army molded me to be. I did what I was told, I was where I was told to be, and when to be there. I learned a lot, traveled a lot, met a lot of people from all walks of life, and I had a career that few can understand.

However, the seed of the artist was still there, and it came out in little ways. I dabbled in various crafts: cross-stitch, needlepoint, crocheting, and eventually jewelry. Jewelry became more than just a bit of dabbling, and I eventually started a jewelry business that lasted five years. Jewelry was also the catalyst that brought me full circle to photography. Because I couldn’t afford a professional photographer every time I created something new, I learned to shoot my jewelry myself for my website, MySpace, and Facebook. The high school seeds of photography were reborn.

During the time of my jewelry business, I went back home, taking my very young daughter with me. We went to my high school so I could show her where I went to school. We stopped by to see Mr. Rochester. He was stiff and cordial, and didn’t seem to care about how my life turned out. Perhaps that’s how some teachers are and it wasn’t anything personal at all. Perhaps he was still carrying the grudge that one of his star pupils didn’t fulfill his intended destiny. I was somewhat saddened, but realized I couldn’t fix it.

Fast forward to today. I’ve had my photography business six years. It’s evolved. I spent much time competing as a commercial photographer, having both good and bad projects. I enjoyed many of my experiences, but just like the teenage me, I resented being told how to shoot a project. I needed to make a change for the satisfaction of my artistic soul; otherwise, I was going to quit shooting altogether.

Today I shoot for me. I shoot what excites me, what fulfills me. It may never make me artistically famous or a millionaire. What I do know is that my journey to this point has had many twists and turns, but ultimately, here I am, doing it MY way.

I think about Mr. Rochester. I’m sorry I disappointed him then, but I still hope if he saw me now, he’d be proud. I would also hope that he’d realize that no two artistic journeys are the same, and sometimes the longer, more wayward path has the biggest impact.

Your artistic path won’t be like mine. Your choices won’t be like mine. No matter how you get THERE, just realize that eventually you will get THERE, wherever THERE is. It may sound like mumbo jumbo, kumbaya, touchy feely crap, but every step of your journey will lead you to where you need to be. And no one has that map for THERE but you.