Ryan Adams, Tampa photographer spar over camera flashes at Gasparilla Music Festival
Ryan Adams’ headlining set at the 2017 Gasparilla Music Festival on Sunday was full of positivity — good tunes, good fan interaction, an all-around loose vibe at sunset.
Until, that is, midway through the set, when a photographer perched high above the crowd caught Adams’ eye and ire.
Adams has Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder exacerbated by flashing lights that can cause vertigo-like symptoms, ocular migraines and seizures. Camera flashes are prohibited at his concerts, and security guards wandered the crowd at Gasparilla warning fans and holding signs reminding everyone to turn theirs off.
So when Adams noticed Tampa photographer Joe Sale using a flash atop an elevator lift platform behind the soundboard, he called Sale out, improvising a song about how sensitive he is to flashes (“Ask any of my ex-girlfriends...”), pointing out Sale and asking security to issue an official reminder (“Why don’t you just put that sign up?”). Sale responded by flipping Adams the bird. Afterward, their beef spilled over onto Twitter.
“I used the flash from 2000 feet away,” Sale wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “I shot the 12 other bands over 2 days w/o flash. You lived...write a sob story about it.”
After backlash from Adams’ fans, Sale deleted his entire Twitter profile. On Monday, he said he now understood where Adams was coming from, but stopped short of apologizing.
“I think it’s a bit unfair to say that I should know he had a condition ahead of time,” he said by phone. “I could care less what he thinks. But now I’m aware that he has a condition that he gets migraines and potential seizures, and that I understand. I would never use a flash near the stage. ... I know that the flash had zero effect on him from where I was.”
Sale, the owner of Tampa Image Factory, was shooting for the festival itself, said GMF spokeswoman Michelle Gutenstein, though like most festival workers he was an unpaid volunteer.
“Having great pictures from the festival helps everyone, from the artists to the photographers to the city to the festival,” she said. “We all want the same thing. And it seemed like in this case, the photographer wanted something different.”
Every photographer was warned about Adams’ condition in advance, she said, including Sale.
“It’s famous,” Gutenstein said of Adams’ condition. “It’s not like that was new information or any type of surprise. Everybody knows about his condition, anybody who’s a fan coming to this festival, wanting to shoot him.” She added: “It seems like no harm was really done, thank god. Nobody got hurt.”
Sale said part of why he used the flash atop the elevator lift was that he was nonplussed that he and other photographers had to shoot from the soundboard hundreds of feet away instead of a pit by the stage.
“When it comes to trying to photograph somebody and get a decent shot, and then you’re told you can’t do the work you’re there to do, why is it up to him?” he said. “I didn’t use flash for all other 12 performances because you don’t use flash when you’re close to the stage.”
Farther away, Sale said, “I used the flash to kind of fill in some of the crowd more, to highlight the crowd, because it would have zero impact from that far away.” When Adams called him out and he flipped the singer off, he said, “I think it was all the frustration of being pushed away from the stage boiling over.”
Gutenstein said this was the first time GMF has had a problem like this with a photographer.
“We vetted him as best we could, but he obviously came in there with an agenda,” she said. “I will not be using any of Joe’s pictures. He will not be invited back. And I will encourage my friends to be very wary about issuing him photo passes.”
Sale has taken a beating on Facebook and Twitter from Adams fans calling him “highly unprofessional” and “pathetic.” He says he’s not sympathetic to “people who don’t understand the situation” and “Twitter trolls with 11 followers.” He doesn’t regret deleting his Twitter profile, saying: “I never received an ounce of business from Twitter.”
As for his tete-a-tete with Adams: “He blocked me, I blocked him, and then it was basically a back-and-forth between me and his fans.”
At least it made for a memorable moment, he said.
“I made it into a Ryan Adams song, for whatever that’s worth,” he said with a laugh. “Ryan Adams sang about me! Yay!”