There's being rock n' roll, and then there's being an asshole. Last night, Queens of the Stone Age
frontman Josh Homme was the latter. During a strange performance, Homme behaved erratically, intentionally cutting his forehead with a razor blade and calling the audience "retards". He capped it all off by then kicking a Shutterstock photographer, who had permission to be shooting in the photo pit, square in the face. In a video posted on the Instagram account of the photographer, Chelsea Lauren, Homme is seen playing on the edge of the stage, before walking over to Lauren and seemingly intentionally kicking her camera into her face. Homme has since reached out and apologized, saying that he was "lost in the performance", but Lauren plans to move forward with charges after having spent the night in the hospital.
Internet commentators have come to the defense of both parties, with sympathies for Lauren, and bizarre and inexcusable defenses for Homme's actions. I'll be transparent, and let you know that I, like Lauren, frequently shoot concerts for press purposes, but even with biases aside, there's no excuse for Homme's actions, and the deplorable arguments made by people defending him.
Photographers rarely get any love in the music scene. This is a job—and let's be clear, it is a job—that requires a lot of time, energy, and skill, often in exchange for little to no compensation, and generally not much more recognition than a small photo credit. Bands and fans are generally more than happy to republish our work for their own benefit, more often than not without permission or credit, and to treat us like we're more of a nuisance than someone trying to work.
I might sound like I'm coming across as pretty salty, and I might be, but I'm just looking for a little more appreciation for what I do. I grew up in my photography career shooting shows, from punk bands in D.I.Y. basement venues to international artists on festival stages. All I've ever aimed to do was support the artists that I love. And I've sacrificed a lot for this labor of love.
At one of the first shows I ever shot, a tipsy and grinning old hippie came up to me next to the stage and embraced me, before looking me straight in the eyes and emptying his beer all over my camera bag. My front right tooth is fake, I had to have it replaced after a flying microphone at a hardcore show split my lip and took about half the tooth with it. I got a bill from the dentist for several hundred dollars and a sympathy shot of whiskey from the singer of the band for my troubles.
I should probably give up on glasses and just switch to contacts at this point, seeing as I've lost three pairs of them at shows that didn't have a pit area for photographers. On one of those occasions I had to drive home holding a broken frame with one lens in it in front of my face just to see. Complain all you want about photographers "being in the way" when they're shooting from the pit at shows, but it's for our safety as much as our jobs. Plus, a surprising number of y'all don't wear deodorant to shows, and I sure as hell don't want to stand next to that.
(Look at what cool shots I get when I'm not being harassed)
The risk to mind and body is something that I accept as an occupational hazard, but I've also sacrificed the safety of my baby and one true love, my camera, as well. An errant leg from a stage diver knocked the flash clean off my camera, to die an ignominious death, trampled amidst empty beers cans in the mosh pit. I love shooting shows, especially rap and hip-hop shows, but there's an extra degree of caution shooting them because rappers, for whatever reason, have a predilection for showering the crowd and photo pit with whatever drink happens to be in their cup. If you're lucky, it's champagne, and your camera at least might die a classy death.
But really, I just wish people would understand that all I'm trying to do is take cool pictures for the sake of the artist. During one hurtful instance, an artist I'll leave unnamed stopped her set two songs in and refused to play on until the photographers left. I got that she wanted her fans to have the chance to get closer to her, it is understandable, but it's kind of a crappy feeling getting booed as you leave the photo pit when you were doing your job for the benefit of the artist.
Again, I'm not looking for sympathy, and I don't believe Lauren is either. We both understand that there are risks associated with our job, and yet despite them, we will continue going out to shows and shooting the pictures that eventually get turned into timeless classics and your #MCM posts. All I ask is that you just understand that we're not trying get in anyone's way, we're just trying to do our jobs and help you and the band remember what a night you had. Also please stop kicking us, we bruise easily.