A Game of Photos

 

I watched this video this morning – a grab from the official stream of Nine Inch Nails at the FujiRock Festival in Japan. I wanted to check out the stage setup since it has become one of my favorite things about NIN shows over the last few years. I think it is pretty cool, although not my favorite of setups they have done.

 

But what really struck me as the most amazing thing was that there are no cellphone lights or flashes from cameras during the whole show. When a quiet song plays with a dark setting, no one is ruining the mood with a drunken holler or the bright strobes of photography. Instead the crowd is respectful towards the artist and each other, decent and intent on enjoying the moment.

 

I am stunned. I do not know if this is a wonderful cultural practice in Japan or that the venue had very strict policies or if NIN fans are just that cool, but it is such a heartwarming sight to see. I cannot remember the last time I went to a concert and did not see a sea of miniature blue screens dancing around (I usually watch shows from the back near the soundboard where the sound quality is optimal….unless the soundguy sucks).

 

I used to be one of these people. I love taking pictures and playing around with contrast and lighting. Music concerts are a great place for beautiful shots because of the use of color and light and shadow on stage. But a couple of years ago I realized I spent too much time during a show trying to get a good shot that was not blurry or ruined by a sudden change in lighting or someone’s hand (occasionally disembodied from a mosh pit) flying up into my shot. Unless I am one of those photographers with a pass that grants access backstage or in front of the crowd for the best shots, it is not worth the hassle. I am done getting frustrated over these things.

 

I also would get self-conscious about whether I was blocking the view of someone behind me when I raised my camera up in the air for a picture or video. At least I have that sense to be considerate, unlike most other people. I remember the last time I saw Metallica, I spent most of the show behind two teenagers about a head taller than me who would not stop filming the whole damn show on their phones. Pretty much ruined it for me and to this day I do not know why I did not make them stop. Probably because at the time I was doing my own bit of picture-taking as well and it would have been hypocritical.

 

It really seems like that American audiences are the worst at all of this. I read about crowds in festivals at other countries being incredibly friendly, respectful, and set on just enjoying the show and not capturing every second of it.

 

How did we get to such a state of wanting a personal record of everything? And why?

 

 

I think everyone would first blame our latest modern culture that is centered on sharing through social media. From the early days of Myspace and Facebook, we made it the hobby of everyone online to take pictures of their lives and upload them. I can understand wanting to share pictures made together with friends, but there seems to be a new purpose that has crept into our subconscious.

 

What I feel is happening now is we are documenting every event and place we attend simply to have the evidence that we have accomplished this feat, that we have done something others have not. Posting pictures is getting to a point of competitive oneupmanship over who is living life more to the fullest than others. Photo albums are huge testaments to what you have checked off your list of “to-do’s.”

 

We used to take photos to remember moments, to keep in books and look back on fondly once every few years. We still do this in a digital sense, but some people are going so far with this that they are missing what is really in front of them.

 

Concerts are a good example of this. These used to be a mass of like-minded fans that knew all the music and united to enjoy/become part of a performance. We had mutual respect for each other through a common love of an artist. We connected with strangers that turned into good friends, even if for just those few hours.

 

Now it seems like it is all about racking up points on some imaginary life scale and everyone else there is your competition and an obstacle between you and your personal bond with the artist. We go to concerts just to be cool, to say we have seen so-and-so nine times more than the next big fan, to be a part of the biggest thing in town without really caring what it is. We spend the concert filming it or taking pictures, watching everything through a small screen instead of the wide expanse that our own eyes provide. We get annoyed with people that get in the way of our recording rather than bonding with these same people that are just trying to enjoy the music and feel that release. We fight each other to get the best views and get angry with others for the smallest things. And then we upload everything in attempts to get approval from our peers.

 

I just do not get this.

 

A similar scenario is people who go to new places and take a thousand pictures of themselves posing in front of monuments or scenic horizons, but when they get back they can not say much about what their trip was like. They have little to say about what amazed them or what they learned or how their perspective changed (especially if they visit a different country).

 

It is the same with meeting famous people. I lost interest in having a picture taken with a celebrity of any sort a few years ago. I just do not really see the point other than to say “Hey, this person of national renown has verified my existence!” (I feel the same about autographs). I feel like the only value with meeting these people is if you have a chance to converse with them enough to learn something or share enough that you bond just a bit. Or if you actually get a chance to work with them on something cool. Just getting a picture with one is nothing more than producing an object for lame bragging rights.

 

There are great advantages to having pictures of moments in your life – capturing what is beautiful, recording moments in time that you will want to remember years after people are gone, cataloging the growth of a child and all their preciousness, etc.

 

But all of that should be secondary to actually experiencing the moment and letting it imprint itself on who you are. We record our lives by how people and events shape us, how we let them change us. You yourself should a deeper and more valuable album of experiences than any collection posted online.

 

So the next time you are at a show or on a vacation somewhere new, put the phone down and really take in everything around you and appreciate it. Just live it.

 

 

 

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