Yesterday a touching scene unfolded while I sat in the cocktail lounge “Blue” at Marina Bay. Located in Quincy, Marina Bay hosts a hoard of water worthy pleasure craft, a few small businesses and five eating and drinking establishments on the boardwalk. Also notable on the boardwalk is a cozy white gazebo which is invitingly lit as the sun goes down.
As I sipped a glass of Merlot, two young Black women decided that the gazebo with its backdrop of assorted yachts and speedboats would be a classy background for a few sultry selfies and so they proceeded to pop a few snaps of one another as well as a few BFF arm length duo shots. They were quite cute as it seems that since the advent of the iPhone camera, almost every lady, young and old, has mastered the art of the supermodel pose. Pleasing displays of leg and bosom along with the “come hither smile” or the pouty lipped “who me?” look were executed with skill, dispatch and plenty of good natured humor. Sotto voce comments were exchanged, most likely about how Michael or Mary will respond to this picture, often followed by laughter. The whole scene brought lightness and smiles to me and other observers as well.
When the two ladies moved away, the gazebo received two new visitors, her a silver haired beauty in the proverbial “little black dress” and wedgie heels. Him, tall and dashing in a dark suit and tie. The African-American couple began the similar routine of him photographing her, and then trying to do an extended arm portrait of them both when I could no longer restrain myself. I walked over to them and said “OK! Let’s stop foolin around here. Both of you get up there and let me take your picture with your camera. They laughed and then sighed with relief. I took their real camera (a cute little Nikon 1 as opposed to a “smart” phone) and shot a vertical, a horizontal and then backed up for a wide angle that included the entire gazebo. As I told them what a handsome couple they were, the gentleman said, “I guess I didn’t fall far from the tree. This is my mother.” The astonishment must have shown in my face because he actually repeated “This is my mother” a second time by which I had regained my composure sufficiently to say “Wow”. She was svelte and lovely.
Meanwhile, I guess all this commotion incited yet someone else to riot as a complete stranger came over and said “Do you (meaning me) want to get up there with them and I’ll snap the three of you? I had to explain to this well-meaning gentleman that they didn’t know me from Adam and that I was just helping them out. With chuckles and smiles all around I returned to my table. Certainly this was an example of the positive effect iPhoneography in the age of the selfie.
Now this brings us to a particularly curious point. You see, I haven’t taken a single “selfie” as of this date. It isn’t that I have a lack of selfieconsciousness (OK, I know that was bad but I couldn’t resist) although the disappearance of my formerly robust hairline has really diminished my enthusiasm for the Arni portrait. What is troubling however is the possibility my visage may literally become publicly over exposed. You see, the last year or two, darn near every gig, there are a half dozen folks with their iPhones and often another half dozen with their cameras (from sincere point and shoot’s to serious high end stills and video cameras) aimed at the stage and filming like crazy. Recently we did a concert at the Bromley Heath projects and there were not one but two videographers as well as the ever-present phalanx of papirazzi. (Papirazzi is my new coined phrase for the new wave of iPhone photojournalists.)
One of the video guys strolled the front of the stage like a degenerate up skirting The Rockettes dancing girl’s chorus line. It seems that it has never occurred to these folks that someone waltzing in front of the stage and popping flashes just might be a distraction to a performer on stage trying to weave a magical solo.
Lest you think this was an isolated phenomenon, literally a few hours later and a few miles away, a completely different audience went for the brass ring of “one-upsmanship”. At a well-known establishment high over the city, patrons raised their cellphones high and photographed and filmed myself and several other performers without so much as a “May I” or a “Thanks”. One group of young fellows sauntered up to the stage and turning their backs to the band, executed a group selfie (Is that a groupie? Were they groupies?) with the band in the background as if they were performing with us or we were all “best buddies”. On yet another night at the same venue, a fellow in a loud sport shirt did a similar dirty deed and then had the audacity to toss two dollars on the stage at my feet as if throwing bills to a pole dancer or perhaps an organ grinder and his monkey.
To top it all off, there is a fellow to whom I’ve expressed my displeasure on several occasions as he proceeded to take twenty or more photographs of my horns as if I’ve paid thousands of dollars just to provide him with a musical still life setting. Indeed, his response was that he was documenting Jazz History in Boston as if he were doing me a favor. As I continued to strenuously complain and mentioned that I might be inclined to take some legal action should he fail to cease and desist, he calmly replied that when I died I could bet he would use the images any way he saw fit. (I am making a specific instruction that upon my demise, whoever administers my meagre estate must search regularly for any images of me under this person’s name and if anything is found, sue his pants off.)
In the end, this type of Papirazzi doesn’t bring smiles and pleasure but rather invoke a feeling of being used, disrespected and invalidated.
So what do we have here? I’m reminded of the classic theatre icons of the polar opposites that can be found in theatre. I enjoyed seeing the value this snapshot craze had for the couples on the boardwalk but I intensely disliked the impertinence of the guy with the two bucks or folks filming to post on their social media without so much as an acknowledgement of our humanity. In the end, I wish all the new found photojournalists would understand that many times it is better to engage the subject and strike up some kind of a relationship (before or even after if there is a perceived “decisive moment” issue) when photographing jazz musicians on stage. Otherwise, maybe you are “stealing my soul”.
P.S. There are some folks who may have explicit permission to photograph while we’re playing. Lou Jones, Mitch Weiss, Craig Bailey, the band leader’s wife, etc. If you don’t know who’s who and their status, don’t assume that one camera signals marching orders for a parade of snap happy poppers to rush the stage. Sadly, I’ve had to discourage close friends from taking pictures so as not to seemingly give folks license. That’s a shame.
P.P.S. Instead of grabbing a shot and running off, if you’re that good how about getting my email address and sending me an image or a video clip of that great stuff you’re shooting?