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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2009/05/26
by David Steinberg

Rethinking Photo Policies

One of the things that I always loved about the Grateful Dead was their photo policy. They didn’t have one. Bring in a camera. Have fun. Just try not to distract the other fans too much. While a few smaller bands and many festivals keep that policy, larger ones tend to have a more restrictive set of rules. Cameras are for the photo pit and the smugglers. While that’s understandable for both the enjoyment of other fans and the ability of bands to market themselves, this isn’t really a sustainable solution anymore.
Look at any video of Phish from Hampton. Take this ‘Fluffhead’ clip:

See all of those light rectangles on the floor? Those aren’t glowsticks or flashlights or anything. That’s everyone taking photos with their cell phones (or anything else they smuggled in). The only way to actually have a photo ban now is also to have a cell phone ban and, let’s face it, that would rapidly become a self-imposed fan ban.
About three years ago this wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but cell phone camera technology has come a long way. My iPhone already takes photos about as good as my first digital camera

and the general sense is that it’s below average for a cell phone camera. With the amount of interest in the technology, we’re going to be seeing a real zoom and a decent amount of resolution within the next few years. Sure, no cell phone camera will match a SLR (or even a good point and shoot from the same generation), but if we reach a certain minimum standard, once that we’re rushing towards, than law of large numbers can come into effect. Yes the people in the photo pit and the people who have their SLR’s will take photos better than almost any fan, but when you have thousands of people snapping shots, one or two is going to grab an incredible photo.

We’re still a few years away from this scenario, but this is the time for a band that wants to be proactive to change their policies. Being ahead of the curve makes you look like a fan friendly band rather than one that was forced to deal with the situation due to technical situations; that impression is the difference between bands that come across well in the Internet era and those that are playing public relations defense. The time is now. Allow camera into shows. Do it for both the fans and yourself.
Note: Some might argue that this entire column is a self serving rant because I really want to bring my camera into Fenway Park. Well, OK, I do have to admit that this is a factor. This will be my first (and perhaps only) trip to Fenway and I would like to take photos of the venue both inside and out. Not only do I want a shot of myself in front of the Monster (I’m on the field), but without a rental car or a hotel, it would be rough to bring my camera to the Park since I’d have nowhere to stash it. So on one level, guilty as charged. However, I have been thinking about this for a while and I do think that camera restrictions are going to be less and less possible as portability improves. Just wait until everyone can record perfect video on their phones
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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