Why Concert Photographers Were Offended by The Killers' On-Stage Pledge to 'Take Care of' Their Photographers
The Killers are among the acts who now only let their own photographers shoot their shows, one of many recent challenges facing the profession.
Few concert photographers were comforted this weekend when Brandon Flowers, lead singer of arena-rockers The Killers, made a brief speech on stage saying photographers were "welcome" and "respected," because the band doesn't usually allow any photographers besides its own to shoot its shows.
Just one night after Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme was seen on video kicking photographer Chelsea Lauren in the face -- an act for which he has since apologized -- The Killers' Brandon Flowers took the same stage at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas in Los Angeles, and invited his band’s house photographer Rob Loud to join them, telling him, “I’m not going to kick you in the face, it’s ok.”
Later he added: “I just want to tell you to tell all your friends that you’re welcome here, and at Killers concerts you’re safe and respected,” before embracing Loud with a large hug and telling the crowd: "They make us look good — we need to take care of these people.”
The announcement did not go over well with many of the press and freelance photographers in attendance, who were not allowed to photograph the set. The Killers — the evening's headliner, following a cancellation by Morrissey earlier that day — were the only band that evening to prohibit nearly all photographers but their own from shooting, a practice they have had in place for many years at their radio shows, festivals and concerts, though they did allow a Getty photographer on stage.
In recent years, sources tell Billboard, the Killers and other star acts have come to believe the best live photos are taken not from the pit, but the back and side of the stage -- showing the crowd, special effects and visuals, and capturing the excitement of the show. The Killers have had their policy in place since 2006, one source says.
For a performance the night before (Dec. 9) in the Bay Area for KROQ’s sister station Live 105, the band’s publicist Katie Nelson (with Grandstand Media) emailed Live 105’s Marketing and Promotions Director Brandon Paski to tell him that The Killers would not allow outside media to photograph their set. Paski then emailed attending media, instructing photographers that the Killers were the only band of the two-day concert that “DO NOT allow any photographers,” and would instead “provide photos to publications from their tour photographer if needed.” Nelson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
"It didn't feel supportive coming from someone who prevents us from doing our job as press," professional photographer Amy Harris tells Billboard. “It is extremely frustrating for media professional photographers to travel to and shoot shows and festivals for their respective outlets, and not be able to cover the headlining acts. The artists don't seem to care about press.” Harris also says that modern acts' reliance on social media versus traditional press "is probably part of it.”
Homme's assault on Lauren — a celebrated area photographer for Shutterstock — coupled with Flowers' speech that some veteran music media have described to Billboard as “insincere” and “opportunistic,” were just the latest indignities some concert photographers say they have endured in recent years.
With the explosion of social media, professional photographers and wires services have been crowded out of the photo pit by social media influencers, Twitter celebrities and Instagrammers who are credentialed to shot concerts with their phones alongside pro photographers with expensive lenses and bulky equipment. Veteran photographers also face increased pressure from acts to give up their copyrights on photos, often through complicated legal waivers that hand ownership of the images to the artists, and require artist approval before images are used.
“If you dissect Brandon’s comments, they are comical,” says longtime LA Photographer Paul Hebert, who photographed this year’s KROQ concert. “He was the only artist that weekend that doesn’t allow himself to be photographed.” Hebet added that it’s difficult to sell his photos to publications “when you cannot photograph the headliner.”
The photographer also said that the kicking incident -- which Homme said in his apology that he couldn’t explain or excuse -- was flagrant, but not especially shocking. While some artists work with photographers to get the best shots, there are other artists who spit on photographers, throw things at them and generally try to make their lives difficult.
Of course, not all artists treat photographers badly. Hebert says artists, like guitarist Tom Morello of Prophets of Rage and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, go out of their way to work with photographers, and to perform in ways that generate good shots.
"Some bands treat us horribly, and some play into the photographers,” Hebert says, adding that when he hears a band has a reputation for causing harm, he tries to avoid getting too close. Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch "will intentionally dump water on us," Hebert relates. "I mentioned [it] to him once, and he laughed and said, 'Well you know what I do, so you should be ready' -- which I am. I just don't shoot them, or stay away from Ivan if I do."
Billboard reached out for a comment to a representative for Moody but did not receive a response by publication time.