Ah, that majestic spectacle. That moving mass-participation event. iPads raised aloft, like so many black monoliths, scooping up the last remaining scraps of an already narrow field of vision, and making it just that little bit harder for the other, ooh, 599,000 of us to get a good look. Little kids on shoulders, fair enough. Big stupid tablets (with flapping wrap around covers, if you please), no. Too much. Much too much. The photo above isn’t a library stock image. It was taken in Albert Dock, its owner craning his neck up to the glared-out screen, trying to work out what was in shot. While a fifty foot friggin’ giant walked right in front of him.

There’s no doubt; camera phones – and similar devices – have changed the way we consume events. But, in our (restricted) view, not for the better. And we’re not the only ones who think it.

Steven Colburn, from Sussex University, is working on a doctoral thesis on people who film stuff, and post the footage on social media sites.

“They accept that in filming the concert they’re withdrawing from the live experience but they are also taking away those memories. And then they’re uploading it onto YouTube, demonstrating their attendance at the event,” he says.

In other words, it’s more a case of telling others “I was there”, sending out an MMS to their poor friends who couldn’t get the time off work, or who are unfortunate enough to live in another city. Some are also offering the first record of the event, and are desperately driven to be the first Tweeter to get RTed, and beat traditional media.

IMG_3137What’s that about? Should we be getting our camera phone out just because we can? Or should we just stand and soak up the event, safe in the knowledge that there will be a million pictures (all, undoubtedly, better than yours) to flick through on Flikr when you get home?

Researchers at the University of Illinois sampled two set of concert goers – asking the same set of questions to both groups: those who either took photos/video on their camera phone, and those who simply sat and watched the gig. Two months later, those who soaked it up device-free scored an 85% recall accuracy rate. Those who peered through their mobile screens scored, on average, only 50% accuracy.

So let’s put it another way – what do you want to remember from the weekend? Collective awe, oohs and ahs, or a million gormless faces, squinting into tiny backlit screens, squeezing every last drop out of a crappy, blocky digital zoom, with that dead-eyed, mouth-gaping, zoned-out expression you get when you see the world through Jobs’ eyes. Photography, as Telegraph columnist Nigel Farndale said recently, “once a noble art, has become, thanks to the move to digital, a mental illness.”

He’s not alone. The Guardian’s tech columnist rightly observes: “Instead of using technology such as camera phones to make our lives richer, freer and happier, we stand like lumps doing something socially irritating and existentially pointless, thereby ruining the view for everyone else.” We have become, he says, “snappers on autopilot, slaves to our machines, clogging up cyberspace with billions of images that nobody in their right minds – not even the person who sent them – thinks are worthwhile.”

Fair comment?

At a Westlife gig last year (I was there in a professional capacity, honest) I think I was the only one in my cell, erm, I mean, block, that didn’t watch the concert through a camera screen. And it’s not as if these lads, or their fans, are in need of any more images, surely? The world has a surfeit, yes?

Fifty foot giants simply don’t fare well on an iPad camera. Nor on an iPhone zoom. They rob the occasion of its context, its majesty and its sheer, visceral power.

For Liverpool photographer, and sometime SevenStreets contributor Jane Macneil, the phenomenon became as fascinating as the visiting giants themselves.

“When they were walking down The Strand, they didn’t close off the opposite lane of traffic, so you were left with the amazing spectacle of cars, gridlocked, their drivers craning their heads out of the windows. But they weren’t looking directly at the Diver, they were simply aiming their camera phones to take a snap. I though that was really funny, and, as a photographer, a far richer subject matter to capture.”

You can see some of Jane’s images here.

It’s true that, thanks to camera phones, we’re all reporters, and the democratisation of the media is something SevenStreets is the first to defend. It’s why we’re here. It’s also true that technology might have enhanced our window on the world. But sometimes its windows, and its devices, can close down more than open up.

So go, enjoy the amazing spectacular. Be proud that this city still believes in magic.

But, remember. There’s no app that can beat just being there.

Giant Spectacular

David Lloyd

Images: Jane Macneil

25 Responses to “I Was There. And Here’s The Proof.”

  1. Yeah, that definitely annoyed me as well. There was one guy we passed a few times, holding his iPad aloft while he chatted to his mates. He wasn’t even watching the show/spectacle/whatever you want to call it, and he was so busy chatting, his iPad wasn’t even pointing in the right direction. But he kept it up in the air for a good 10 minutes

  2. Slash the ex- Guns n’ Roses guitarist once said it was weird that years ago he looked out and saw flames from lighters and now all he see’s are flashes from cameras and LED screens.

  3. Fiona Shaw

    Very strange-looking phenomenon, the iPad in the air. Bodes well for arm muscles though… Problem is, it’s just how we live these days; Facebook check-ins, banal updates about what you got for Christmas/ what a great time you’re having/ where you are; collecting friends; bucket lists – it’s all just registering experiences for some invisible file. That said, I got a few good photies on my iPhone this weekend 😉

  4. I didn’t take my DSLR. I had my phone so took about two photos and stopped after that. How many other images are on the web – FB, Twitter, Flickr and blogs – that you could realistically take a better or more interesting photo than everyone else? There didn’t seem much point. I was more interested in trying to stroke Xolo the dog’s muzzle.

  5. Actually, the non boat pic above was most definitely not taken in Liverpool. Possibly Mexico, as we aren’t the first to have had a visit from the giants.

  6. @Rob – the Girl Giant pics at the very top are press images from their last performance. Not sure where. We put it up on Friday, hence why they’re not Liverpool shots.

  7. Pam Green

    I feel the same about umbrellas, how rude of those people who used them without a thought for the people behind who can’t see probably because your umbrella poked their eye out. Put your mac on or hood up and ditch the brolly. Same goes for Mathew street! Its England, it rains!

  8. Most of the photos I took were the view finder of the phones infront of me.

    I did comment to someone I was with, I wonder how many people actually saw the giants in “real life” and not via a camera screen.

    For some reason, downloading other peoples photos of the event doesn’t necessarily help ten years down the line remembering your experiences of things.

    Especially with gigs. You can forget which gigs you went to if you don’t make your own record of it to go back on.

  9. Edward Feery

    I did take some video footage of the Diver, so I could remind myself later down the line that, yes, it really HAD been that magical, and I took some photos of it as well, but I made sure to actually see it with my own eyes as well, otherwise I might as well have been watching North West Tonight.

  10. Mike Bish

    Confirmed that it’s way more interesting photographing the photographers than the event (where millions will do a better job than I ever would anyway).

    As to the other point…as someone really interested in learning about photography, I’ll always try and take my camera to events such as this but it’s definitely important to strike a balance and risk missing it for the sake of getting a decent snap.

  11. You know what the very WORST advert is doing the rounds now? That HTC mobile phone ad. ‘Hey, I’m Nick Jojoba. A photography student. And I’m doing a fashion shoot. From a parachute’. Yeah, Nick. You forgot your camera. Dick.

  12. Deborah

    V interesting, especially as I am Guilty As Charged. In fact I experienced much of it via others’ photos that I instantly shared. But I’m not sure you can say it reduces the experience. The urge – and the ability – to share my awe and wonder was a huge part of my experience of the event.

  13. @Richard Whitehouse – in ten years time will people still have the original photos they took today? Will the social media sites they uploaded them to still be around? It’s interesting that photos are so much more disposable now, virtually none of the thousands of photos from last weekend will ever be preserved. Most will probably be lost at the next phone upgrade.

  14. Garry Haywood (@_garrilla)

    Sol Yurik, who wrote The Warriors, also wrote a book, in the mid 80s, called Metatron about the coming age of computer revolution.

    He said all epochs have a ‘guiding’ angel, such as the enlightenment had the Angel of Progress. He said this age would have the Angel of Recording and we would create a massive machine to capture all of our experiences.

    We wouldn’t worry about playing them back, he suggested. The gist of his thesis was that we might struggle to distinguish the real from imaginary in our scary world of media overload. All the recording devices would comfort us, to know that some of life was lived as experience. I was there, i recorded it, so I must have had an experience.

    I also wonder if the constant recording of everything is a kind of envy of the hyper-real – by making an experience a captured one does it somehow it the equivalence. of a cultural product?

    I took over 300 photos with my prosumer camera. I’m a recording schmuck too. And I can prove it.

  15. I absolutely and totally agree.
    We watched the fireworks at the Albert Dock last year, and standing in front of us, right at the edge of the Dock were three lads who just stood with their arms in the air filming on their phones. A firework display. Not only did they totally restrict the view for everyone else behind them, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch a video of some fireworks, let alone one made on a phone. I would go so far as to bet they’ve never even played it back. And it did make me wonder at the time if people have lost the ability to truly experience the moment they are in- I genuinely can’t believe it’s a desire to record the event for posterity; as you rightly say, there are so many better photographs and videos available. I actually wonder if the sheer intensity of standing still and experiencing the emotion is too much to cope with… so holding a camera places distance between the spectator and the sight in front of them, shielding them from the full force of the event.
    Either that or people just can’t stand still any more…. they have to be always DOING something!!

  16. Paul Wills

    Great article – because I agree with it!
    I’ve often thought the same when watching football and seeing fans taking photos of players as they get close to them to take a throw-in or corner. What’s the point? What do they get from a photo of Dirk Kuyt’s back?!?
    On the other hand, in everyday life I think it’s great that more photos are taken, although we all need to exercise some quality control and sort our wheat from our chaff regularly.

  17. Chris Carney

    I saw so many of these ipad owners last weekend, I thought they looked idiotic & I suspect that it’s not just “i was there…” it’s also “look what I’ve got.” Didn’t spoil a magnificent weekend though.

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