Anyone who has been to a club or gig in the last 20 years is probably familiar with the term VIP. As photographers we are all too aware of this rather loosely defined acronym and it’s various incarnations as it can be the bane of our lives.
Some time between the advent of mobile phones and the demise of Concorde the term shifted from the very literal meaning of importance to a chocolate fondue, sparkler in your champagne gimmick to rake in the ‘riff raff’. Soon every weekend in any city was ram jammed to the rafters with limos containing truckloads of priority entry celebutantes, all ready to party with prestige. The post weekend clean up would then see these glittering streets littered with countless velveteen promises of significance, unused and unwanted.
The problem with this cunning ploy was that what do you do when you have someone who truly is ‘important’. The haute couture high rollers whose bank rolling habits furnish this crazy carnival. This is where it all turns a little George Orwell as suddenly everyone is important, but some are more important than others.
It’s the gold card conundrum which still hasn't found it’s platinum benchmark. The solution so far is VIP bands, tags and tokens in all manner of colours, styles and finishes; I have even been given a neatly cut piece of suede before. You have AAA, crew, press and artist all of which can either surpass or surrender to the VIP status.
Being a photographer in the music world we are still finding our place in this social hierarchy as we sit in the enviable position of being temporarily ‘important’ the ‘important’ people. We are in no way to be considered important in the classical sense, most photographers I know have two jobs. I don’t mean a buy to let property portfolio either I mean a traditional, ‘one day I’ll pack this job in’ kind of job. Because of this we have no illusions of grandeur when handed these passes. We don’t surreptitiously leave them on our wrists for days on end in the hope someone might clock them. We realise any benefits gained from this temporary lift in status is just that, temporary. All the free drinks, ‘exclusive’ access and shoulder rubbing with the big wigs is not enough to cloud the fact that we are only important as long as the camera is clicking.
Take a gig for example, as a photographer shooting for press you show up just before the show begins, are lead past all the hordes who have no doubt been queuing for hours for that prime, front row position to your own private area clear of all crowds and obstructions. While everyone else is shuffling for space or holding their bladders for fear of losing their spot, you can even sit if you choose to lazily sort through your kit with no intrusion or stress. When the music starts you then can wander up and down as you please, taking hundreds of photo’s which you are then free to keep whilst enjoying all the delights of the show hinder free. Once the third track ends however, much like the fairy tale stroke of midnight, the same security who were politely escorting you in, descend upon you and roundly eject you from the premises with barely the time to collect your things.
This to and fro of importance means that sometimes one pass isn't quite enough, sometimes it takes the combined efforts of a Crew pass with a Press pass, an AAA with VIP for that required clout; the Vodka Red Bull method if you will. There is never an exact science as it can mean different things to different people even on the same night.
The art of access for a photographer has always been to get what you can from who you can then get really good at convincing the rest of your current importance. Some people revere your position, others resent it, but that’s all part of being a VIP I guess.