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Odd Future controversy: Photographer seeks public apology, publicist denies attack

Odd Future controversy: Photographer seeks public apology, publicist denies attack
Photograph of "Left Brain" at the questioned Voodoo Experience performance provided by Amy Harris.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 9:14pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 11:09pm

Controversy continues to loom in a story NBC33 first broke in the hours following a performance by California-based hip hop collective Odd Future at the Voodoo Experience in New Orleans. The issue moved from an eye-witness account to denied accusations.

No one denies that Odd Future expressed an extreme disliking for the photographers working the show, but the divide occurs over whether or not female photographer Amy Harris was physically struck by performer Vyron Turner, aka “Left Brain.”

Photographer Nate “Igor” Smith confirmed in an online blog [note that the blog contains explicit language] that “Left Brain came out to the front of the stage and swatted at photographers cameras. He slapped the guy to the left of me. It was pretty hard and kinda [expletive] up, but I didn’t expect anything less…

"Moments later, Left Brain slapped another camera, this time it was a camera belonging to a woman. She almost dropped it but caught the strap and was perfectly fine. Just clearly shaken by the experience…”

Odd Future’s publicist also states that Left Brain was attempting to swat at cameras, not the photographers themselves.

“There simply is no truth to the accusation floating around the Internet,” Heathcliff Berru, Publicist for Odd Future, wrote. “After telling the photographers to clear out multiple times (as they've done before) Vyron (Leftbrain) took a swipe at a few cameras, NOT people. To manipulate the situation to insinuate an attack on a woman specifically is careless and manipulative."

Harris never stated to NBC33 News that she was specifically targeted because she was female. She responds today to the statement issued by Berru saying, “I was very disheartened to learn yesterday that Odd Future is denying that one of its members, Vyron Turner (“Left Brain”), engaged in the violent conduct that so many people witnessed and even photographed or videotaped. After he so publicly attacked me, I truly believed that an apology would be immediately forthcoming, which is why I declined to press charges at that time.”

The Voodoo Music Experience, did however, issue a formal apology in the late evening of October 31. The festival sent out an email with a formal response regarding the incident:

“The Voodoo Experience does not in any way condone the behavior of Odd Future towards the approved media assembled in the photo pit during the band’s set yesterday (Sunday, October 30),” the statement, issued by Publicist Marcee Rondan, read. “Festival organizers would like to apologize to their media guests who experienced and/or witnessed this abusive behavior.”

Shortly after the incident happened, photographers were told to contact Rondan if they had any issues resulting from photographing that show. However, the greatest issue those working the show have is with the statement issued by Berru.

Photographers assert that it should have never happened because they were approved to be there. While some such as Smith note that they expected such behavior from the group given their past history, others were unaware of prior displays. They say that walking into the pit, they had no reason to question whether the band wanted them to be there.

“If Odd Future didn’t want photographers in the photo pit, they clearly had an opportunity to include a restriction not allowing photographers into the photo pit for their show,” Skip Bolen, a photographer working in the pit, noted.

Bolen, who works with such professional organizations as Getty Images and Wireimage, and says that they were never informed by the band to vacate the pit.

“Tyler, the Creator never told photographers to ‘clear out’ multiple times,” Bolen says. “Instead, Left Brain was shouting vile dislike of photographers and how they get to be in the photo-pit for ‘free,’ while their fans actually pay to see the show.

“Left Brain’s hostile attempts and what he was shouting was affecting the crowd in close proximity to me on the other side of the barricade,” he continued to say. “They too all of a sudden following Left Brain’s lead started screaming at the photographers to get the [expletive] out.”

Regarding the claims of physical abuse, Bolen and his fiancé Monica McKlinski, who was also in the pit taking photographs, say they both witnessed the physical slap sustained by Harris. They also say they saw more abuse than what NBC33 News originally reported.

“I clearly saw three attempts by Left Brain attacking photographers,” Bolen told NBC33 News. “First, I saw Left Brain kick at photographers and I was later told that kick was aimed at a video camera and crew [working for Voodoo] - that happened about 15 feet off to my right. There were quite a few photographers between myself and that incident.

“Then, secondly, I saw Left Brain take a swing at Photographer Chris Schwegler about 10 feet to my right,” he added, which is on par with what Smith noted in his blog.

Bolen spoke to Schwegler directly after the show outside of the pit area. He says Schwegler’s camera lens was clearly “no longer fully working” and says “it takes quite a smack to take out a lens.”

Bolen adds that another photographer, Marc Nader, captured the incident on camera, and has published that image on his, as well as Schwegler’s Facebook page. Schwegler has since commented on Facebook that he is in the “process” of talking with lawyers.

Regarding the statement made by Odd Future’s Publicist, Bolen notes that no matter how you phrase it, this was a case of “assault and battery.”

“When a photographer is shooting, the camera, face and lens are practically one – any attempt to hit a lens and camera is still hitting one in the face,” he explained. “I later saw Amy Harris’ face – it was red.”

NBC33 News conducted the interview with Harris after the incident occurred and can confirm that her face was red as if she had been struck, but cannot say with absolute certainty that was incurred from the camera hitting her face, or direct physical contact.

Harris asserts her claim and says fans witnessed the slap were concerned for her well-being.

“They felt bad for me,” Harris said in the hours after the incident. “Several people asked me if I was okay.”

An article published in the Louisiana State University Student Media Publication, “The Reveille,” includes a reaction gained shortly after the performance from a fan who witnessed the incident.

"I really like Odd Future, but what Tyler did just wasn't cool," said Austin resident Lauren Williams. "I saw some other members of the group actually throwing punches at the photographers. Myself and a lot of people around me thought that was really unprofessional."

Additionally, a witness who stayed for the entire show says that later in the set Left Brain “bragged” about the incident with the photographers. The witness says he cannot recall the exact phrasing, but that Left Brain clearly admitted to hitting a photographer. 

Neither Harris nor Schwegler have pressed charges against Left Brain or Odd Future. As before mentioned it would seem that Schwegler is considering legal action, but has not confirmed what action he plans to take.

Harris has contacted lawyer Amy Borlund with Doll Amir & Eley in Los Angeles and is considering her options.

“At minimum, I am seeking a public apology from Vyron Turner,” she writes. “Ultimately, I want a resolution in which Turner is held accountable for his actions.”

Since the incident occurred, Odd Future has continued to tour without incident. A photographer working at Voodoo says they performed at a venue she frequently works for and says they “were totally accommodating to photogs.”

Many argue the incident should be considered an anticipated risk any photographer takes when stepping into a pit. They note that artists have been known to make aggressive moves towards photographers and say this incident is no different.

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