A photographer’s view – The Beyonce Effect

The history is well documented. An artiste who is a control freak about concert photography restrictions (30 or 60 seconds on a stopwatch from the mixer) and a free-for-all at the Superbowl with sports photographers syndicating unflattering photos of said control freak. Recriminations aside, clearly no-one in Beyonce’s camp was forward thinking enough to consider the Law of Unintended Consequence.

Several months on and all photographers are banned from her current tour. Hired hands are putting out official approved photos through the management company she owns rather like propaganda. Forums are awash with critique of those photos and I’m sorry to say that they are underwhelmingly average. I won’t be popular for saying I know I could do a much better job given the subject, the production and the access, so I won’t say it, I’ll just think it (but I know many of my colleagues do too).

The pap agencies are sneaking in cameras to shoot from the crowd and the media are having a field day with the fact they only have access to a set of carefully controlled shots. The issue is dominating all the reviews here in the UK. I’ve never photographed Beyonce, nor would I want to under the conditions she sets currently so this isn’t a case of professional jealousy, but it is a case of concern for our industry.

I’m all for PRs being allowed to do their job to properly vet applications for photo passes to ensure only reputable bona fide photographers gain access. I’m fine with management issuing sensible, fair and legal contracts that fairly define usage and the penalties for breaking the rules. I happen to think that shooting from the mixer is an inexplicable and pointless exercise except in circumstances where it makes for better shots (eg P!nk’s amazing Cirque du Soleil-esque bungee entrance last week at the same London venue).

The best photos I’ve ever seen of Beyonce live were from Glastonbury in 2011. Photographers got three songs from the pit and I’ve yet to see an unflattering or poor image. There is surely an irony there?

Our industry is going down the pan. Restrictive, one-sided contracts, agencies being barred from many tours altogether for reasons unexplained, and photographers being banished to distant mixing desks for no apparent reason. The whole cat and mouse Beyonce situation is an over-reaction and only creates problems rather than solving them. My prediction is that she’ll have photographers again on her next world tour, but I don’t expect to see photographers at her sets at either Chime For Change or V Festival which is a real shame. All publicity sells gig tickets and they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but I’m sorry, that’s bonkers – just look at Bieber.

All in all, when an artist as powerful as Beyonce destroys any productive relationship she may have had with the world’s concert photographers, inevitably others will follow suit. I don’t think it’s done her any favours in terms of the quality of images out there and I’m sure it will only make the less reputable amongst our community even more hungry to capture unflattering, unapproved and unofficial shots in future.