The newest trend in concert touring: no access! The bigger the rock star, it seems, the more controlling they're becoming (I know — quelle surprise!). Such micromanaging often translates into limited accessibility for photographers (quite often only the first three songs) and, if they actually do get in to shoot the show, a stringent photo approval process. For the photographer, that often means loss of control of his/her work. For you, that means you won't always get to see some of the best work by set and lighting designers of the top tours.
We first noticed this on Madonna's Drowned World tour a couple of years ago; Steve Jennings was actually given full access to the show, but with the caveat that all the photos were to become property of Madonna, and that Madge and her people were to approve any photos we used. In the end, it worked out — Steve was able to get some great shots of Bruce Rodgers' set and Peter Morse's lighting — but not until after we got through a boatload of phone calls and lawyers.
We had a similar situation with our December story on the Rolling Stones (“Three-Ring Circus,” page 10). There was a similar approval process in place for that tour, and though the Stones staff was very helpful, we were quickly running out of time. We lucked out on that one because the eminent set designer Mark Fisher, a diligent photographer of his work, gave us a generous supply of images. Smart man that he is, Mark had also copyrighted his photos, so the Stones had no power over them, not that they had anything to worry about.
And it's happened to us once again, while working on this month's story on Peter Gabriel. The powers that be are only allowing photographers to shoot the first three songs of this tour, no exceptions. To make matters worse, the first song is done in almost total darkness. This might be fine for newspapers or magazines only interested in getting a close-up of Gabriel, but it doesn't do folks like us — more interested in Robert LePage's set and Luc Lafortune's lighting — much good at all. High End's Debi Moen and I commiserated quite a bit on this one (the tour is using several Catalyst systems), as we both made every effort to get decent shots. In the end, Gabriel's company, Real World, was extremely helpful, supplying us with images that show at least some of the design work. But this situation was especially surprising, since Peter Gabriel has always struck me as someone who is very respectful of his fellow artists.
I can see the performer's point of view: It's their image up there, and they're very protective of it — as they should be. But as artists they should also realize that the work they're creating onstage is a collaborative process; other artisans are participating, and their work has a right to be seen, too. Perhaps one day rock stars will begin to realize this and allow for greater latitude on this issue, but until that pig flies, I'd like to make my yearly pitch to all designers to keep detailed visual records of their work. Mark Fisher does, and look how he turned out.