[UPDATE BELOW] It seems like nothing has been going right for the formerly Hasidic Jewish reggae performer Matisyahu ever since he shaved his locks. Matisyahu showed off his new look at the 6th annual Festival of Light Hanukkah Tour this week at Music Hall of Williamsburg. But according to Paper Magazine photographer Rebecca Smeyne, it wasn't all huge disco dreidels and giant menorahs: she claims Matisyahu kicked her in the face and broke her camera's expensive flash during Wednesday night's sold out show.
Smeyne—an accomplished and experienced photographer who has shot more than 600 bands in the past five years for places such as Vice, Spin, Rolling Stone and more— described the experience in a long post on Paper's website:
After 12 flash shots over a few minute period (the camera gives me this data), Matisyahu stepped toward me, off the stage. The person in front of me moved and the next thing I knew Matisyahu's foot was on my face and I fell to the ground. At first I assumed he was trying to crowdsurf, that he wasn't deliberately trying to step on me. But when I got up, he was in the middle of the audience. When I turned to look at him, he charged at me and attempted to forcefully wrestle the camera away from me. I had the camera strap wrapped around my wrist several times, and I held the body tightly with both hands. Finally, he ripped the external flash off the top of the camera, leaving wires exposed.
After some prodding, she talked with Matisyahu's manager, who said he saw the whole thing, apologized for his behavior, and said it was "out of character." He also gave her "a fat stack of bills" to settle the damage on the camera. Matisyahu later tweeted his apologies, and also sent out an official statement on the incident, blaming it partly on the flash camera: "I regret what transpired when I tried to remove the camera from the photographer's hands last night. As an artist on stage, it is very distracting and disorienting to have a camera flashing in your face for an extended period of time. I reacted impulsively out of frustration and for that I apologize."
Smeyne noted that she had pre-arranged a photo pass through Matisyahu's publicists, and that there was no mention of restrictions in terms of photography or flash. But in the wake of the incident, some people blamed Smeyne for using the flash: "Oh come on. Any concert photographer should know better than to be using those huge annoying flashes at shows. And 12 of them in like 2 minutes? You probably blinded him. I probably would have kicked you in the face too," was one such response, from a commenter named Hal.
Some of the reactions were so strong, Paper founder and publisher David Hershkovits felt the need to comment, and he rebuked those who sought to blame the victim: "So let's get it straight once and for all. There is never an excuse to use violence against a woman. Period."
UPDATE: Smeyne sent us this statement:
I'd like to add, in regards to the term "kick" which I used in my original tweet right after the incident: He looked at me, stepped toward me and put his foot and weight on my face, as well as other parts of my body. (He obviously wasn't just attempting to crowdsurf because immediately after this is when he charged at me and violently tried to take my camera then broke off the flash, just as I described in my account for Paper). It would be more accurate to say he "stepped on my face."
At a venue of this size, with no photo pit, with only a few photographers, it's common to use flash for some shots. Usually I'm surrounded by colleagues using at least some flash at shows of this capacity. It's too bad there weren't any at this show, because they probably would have gotten some crazy shots! If there had been restrictions about flash, I would have gladly complied.