Paying attention

Philip Hensher in the Independent has written one of those pieces lamenting the way people use technology at live events and experiences, asking ‘Do you want an experience, or just to film it?

I dunno. There’s a part of me that sympathises with this kind of thing and I agree with the article’s earlier point about respecting a venue/performer’s rules.

On the other hand, it’s a daft question.  Evidently some people would rather wave a camera around, capturing the moment to relive it later, than simply look at a picture. Besides, experiencing something and capturing it on film aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive acts.

I also think this might be over-egging things slightly:

In the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg last year, I saw any number of tourists enter an incomparable Matisse room with a camera already held up before their face; they walked around, and left still with the thing raised. What had they seen? How could they ever surrender to the vast magic of Matisse in full flood?

I’ve been to a fair few galleries in my time and can’t remember seeing the people without cameras “surrender to the vast magic” of anything very much, it just doesn’t work that way. I’ve seen all sorts – boredom, distraction, mild interest, animated discussion and quiet appreciation.

At classical concerts my attention has wandered so far from the music that I was tempted to go back, just for the chance to do some good, uninterrupted thinking. I’ve also chatted through bands at festivals, dropped off to sleep in the theatre and caught up on emails and RSS feeds during talks and lectures (proof below). This stuff happens. In that context (and I’m sticking up for these amateur filmmakers and their creative acts now) is holding up a camera really so bad?

I was listening, honest

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

3 replies on “Paying attention”

  1. As someone who takes lots of photos at events and probably uses the camera as a crutch / something to do, I’ve thought about this “experience” thing quite a bit. Probably too much, really. But here’s an observation.

    In order to take a good photo you really have to understand your subject. Sure, you can rattle off hundreds of shots and select the best, but that’s not very satisfying. To really get that photo that means something you need to watch, to get under the skin of the performer, to predict what they’re going to do next so that you can capture it. It’s a lot like big game hunting in that respect, I guess.

    So yeah, when I’m taking photos of performers I’m experiencing the shit out of them. Though I accept not everyone waving their shitty cameraphone is.

  2. Urgh, that Indie article is horrible. Who knew that Art was something I was supposed to surrender to. I was at the aforementioned Live Aid concert in 1985, what a tiresome gig that was.

    I like the idea that Matisse paintings and Sarah Millican gigs are filtered the same way when rendered through the lens of a smartphone. Seems a useful way to remind ourselves of the potential of digital to further render the divide between high art and popular culture as redundant.

  3. I don’t think it should be condemned necessarily and I broadly agree with Pete’s point, but I have to admit there is a lot to be said for paying full attention at the beginning of a performance. If it grabs you, let it. If it doesn’t then by all means check your emails or take rubbish videos on your phone.

    Also, I find that when I’m taking photos I focus almost exclusively on the visual sense. So if it’s a visual spectacle, great, but if it’s a concert then I don’t really experience it.

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