The Way We Look, Tonight

There are always two sides to every event, a wise photographer once told me; there's what's happening, and then there's the audience's reaction to what's happening.

I often say to my friends, you can tell when I've had a really good time at something, because there aren't any photos of it. By which I mean, I've been so caught up in whatever it was - a concert, a party, a dinner with friends - that I never once thought about documenting it for others, or for myself in the future.

I'm as guilty as the next person of getting caught up in selfiemania, at least some of the time. I enjoy having photos to look back on, probably MORE than a lot of people do - but I'm also very aware that looking through a camera takes me out of enjoying the moment, of being present with friends; I'm thinking about another 'audience'; not the people who ARE with me.

So when I'm at a big spectacle, and I see a thousand cellphones pop up in the crowd and stay there for the duration of the show, it makes me a little sad for the people holding them.

I see a genuine experience being sacrificed, for the sake of others who aren't there.

So this month, at Vivid Sydney, I deliberately watched the watchers. I turned my back on the lighting, the projections, and just looked at how other people were (or weren't) looking.

Are we watching - or are we being watched?

Another thing happened that made me think about the act of being present at an event. It was announced recently that Gord Downie, the lead singer of Canadian band The Tragically Hip, has terminal cancer; so I looked back in my archive, knowing that I'd been to one of their concerts while on holiday in 2002.

In spite of carrying a 21kg bag of pro Canon equipment all the way from New Zealand with me, I took a grand total of five (yes, 5) photos.

And yet, I remember that gig incredibly well, 14 years later; probably, because I experienced it.

Robert Catto

I'm a Canadian-Kiwi photographer in Sydney Australia, specialising in performing arts, live events, editorial and corporate / commercial work.