Put the camera down. The lenses in your eyes will do fine

When you hold the camera up to record a moment, are you really there at all?

Bad coverage: It used to be lighters in the air at concerts – now it’s smartphones. Photograph: Thinkstock

Bad coverage: It used to be lighters in the air at concerts – now it’s smartphones. Photograph: Thinkstock


Some at last night’s soccer game will have experienced this. Punters at last week’s Forbidden Fruit festival might have drifted into it. It is a condition that can perhaps best be described as passive filming: that moment when, at an occasion, you find yourself distracted enough to end up watching it through someone else’s screen. When you find yourself doing that, it’s time to take a break and refresh yourself; for the band to stop playing new material and get back to the hits; or for them to put down the camera and just watch the damn show.

Almost no event now – whether school Nativity, favourite son’s wedding or major natural disaster – takes place without the accompanying light show of screens. Most obviously, at any one time, at any concert in the world, several people are recording badly shot, inaudible, shaky footage of a band they paid €70 to see but are now watching through a screen. Instead, they could simply watch it, enjoy it and let the many others in the audience do the work for them. Because when they get home, YouTube will already be busy with other people’s badly shot, inaudible, shaky footage of a band they paid €70 to see but ended up watching through a screen.

An increasingly absurd outcome in the supposed sharing age is how the yearning for personal experience leads to multiple recordings of the same event from only slightly different perspectives. One set of photographs from a single camera can be sent instantly to anyone who needs it or wants it (and many who don’t), yet a group photo shoot must be extended for the length of time it takes for every single person in the photograph to get a shot taken from their camera. Someone is deputised to take it, several cameras scattered about them in an impatient queue, waiting for their opportunity to be pointed and clicked – and to malfunction at just the wrong moment.

At concerts, meanwhile, much of the audience is at any time holding their camera aloft in the hunt for a personal moment that is flare-blotched, sound-distorted and infinitely less exciting than the footage they could carry around in their memory. Then they post it on YouTube.

That quick journey from the stalls to YouTube was the subject of a minor flap this week when a pianist, Krystian Zimerman, halted a recital in Essen, in Germany, in protest at an audience member’s filming.

Few things are more equal parts excruciating and hilarious than hearing a mobile going off in a concert hall and watching – along with the entire audience – as the culprit searches frantically, and vainly, through their bag for their phone. But to film at a concert? That’s a whole other area of passive-aggressive throat-clearing.

Zimerman’s gripe was about the power that YouTube videos have to erode an artist’s control and career – a complaint that echoes those of many comedians.

Recently, bands including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Maccabees have also firmly instructed punters to keep the cameras in their pockets. But Zimerman had also stepped into a more existential row, as articulated by the composer Clint Mansell on Twitter recently: “A performance is a moment in time. Be present. Be awake. Be there. Be Here. Now.”

More entertaining is Jarvis Cocker’s view. “If you have it all on DVD or Mpeg files, you’re cutting out that imaginative factor because you can see it again and again,” he told the Quietus. “If anything, it undermines the experience, because it seemed like a really good moment, and now I can see it were crap. It’s like wedding videos. A wedding should be a magical day because of the personal emotions of the people involved. When you see it with that taken away, just the bare facts of it, it’s just some people standing around in a room getting pissed. So why do that to yourself? Why not just continue living the dream?”

That phenomenon – perhaps soon to be swept away by the arrival of Google Glass – is most pertinent at school concerts and plays, which are now actually watched by only half the room. For the rest, the moment is being sucked into a lens. It is being lived vicariously by parents who are actually present. Their memories are not of their kid on stage but of filming their kid on stage.

They are not watching the show. They are already planning their Facebook album. Yes, there is parental pride, but it has lost its purity. Instead it has become fodder for another post. They were there as their kid nailed their role as Sheep #2, but they were so concerned about capturing the moment that they let it slip past their eyes.


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