In truth, the K Rock Centre in Kingston just wasn’t big enough to hold 7,000 fans and make it safe for the presumably 100+ photographers who would have wanted to be on hand to commemorate The Tragically Hip’s tour finale in their hometown Saturday night.
That’s the position of Rob Baker, one of the band’s guitarists, and at least one music publicist. Others, including Reuters and the Canadian Press, lament the lost opportunity and didn’t appreciate that the only photos made available from the nationally televised concert were handed out by the tour’s promoter.
“Does anyone feel that there has been a lack of coverage of this? That the public hasn’t been served?” Baker tweeted Wednesday in response to complaints from press photographers. “I agree that it is an interesting debate but the bottom line in this case was the logistics of space, safety and fairness.”
He stressed that some photographers that have been covering the bands for 20 years or more, were reassigned to other shows that night, according to a CBC report.
Baker also asked, in a tweet, “Where would the 100+ photographers shoot from? Why CP and not Whig (the Kingston Whig Standard newspaper)? Access at concerts is always limited—1st 3 songs only.”
Paula Danylevich, a music publicist, said the response to the decision has been overblown.
“As someone who has vetted hundreds of media requests for photo passes for numerous bands over the years, I believe the Hip would have suffered 10 times the backlash if they would have granted access to just one media outlet, or a small handful,” Danylevich says. “I can tell you it’s not easy job to decide who gets approval. You will always piss someone off.”
Richard Flohil, a Toronto-based promoter, said it shouldn’t have been a big deal to use a provided photo, especially after the extensive coverage of this tour.
“We’ve seen this same photograph from every single venue on the whole tour. I just don’t think it’s worth getting your knickers in a twist about it.”
On the other hand, some outlets were concerned this is just another example of news photographers being denied access to newsworthy events.
In a statement released Saturday, the News Photographers Association of Canada “repeatedly asked that this position be reconsidered” and member photographers be allowed to take photos of the concert. The organization asked for at least one pool photographer to be present; the request was denied.
“Using handout pictures produced and controlled by a person or organization we cover removes our ability to exercise that editorial independence,” Canadian Press editor-in-chief Stephen Meurice told TVO. “The images become, essentially, promotional material, and we do not distribute such material as part of our news file. What would have happened had some unexpected incident taken place—something involving the prime minister, for example? Would the tour photographer have captured it, and would those pictures would be made available?”
Tim Currie, director of the University of King’s College School of Journalism, said limiting photographer access is akin to trying to control the news.
“Tone is so important in relaying what has happened,” Currie said. “If you can control the visual tone of an event, I think you have a lot of power.”
For what it’s worth, there are bands that outright prohibit or openly try to control what photographers do at concerts. Beyonce, Black Sabbath, The Killers and Prince, among others, have previously denied photographers access to their concerts.
Last summer, the Foo Fighters released a list of demands and restrictions on photographs during their anniversary concert at Washington, DC’s RFK stadium, including the revelation that any photos taken during their performance would become the property of the band. In response, some media outlets, including the city’s alt weekly City Paper, declined to send photographers at all, instead calling on concertgoers to send in photos taken by smartphones from inside the venue.