Fan throws film on stage, band returns it full of pics

It pays to be bold, in photography and in life. So one lucky music fan got a slew of behind-the-scenes footage of his favorite band, a young up-and-coming Depeche Mode. And it all started with a gently tossed roll of film and a piece of paper. That’s how it went.

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No cameras allowed

It’s 1983 and relatively new British electronic band Depeche Mode are playing at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brian McDonnell, a big fan of the band and a young photography enthusiast, is thrilled. Unfortunately, the venue has a strict no cameras policy. Rather than sneak one in, Brian comes up with an innovative plan to throw a roll of film onstage with a polite message asking for snaps. He also gives his return address.

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Photo of Depeche Mode taken by the band on a fan's roll of film
The role is full of candid moments. Courtesy of Anne McDonnell Lawrence

At this point, Brian has no expectation that Depeche Mode will continue. But to his great surprise, they did just that.

The resulting images, first shared earlier this month, show a legendary band on the cusp of greatness. And the candor and nature of the behind-the-scenes moments, many of which were captured in the band’s Green Room, makes the photos all the more special.

Why we are now seeing the Depeche Mode film stills

Sadly, Brian McDonnell passed away 20 years ago at the age of 37. And until recently, these images had only been seen by a small handful of people. That all changed when they were rediscovered by Brian’s sister, Anne McDonnell Lawrence, who shared them with the Belfast Concert Photographs 1980s Facebook group.

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Anne found the footage hidden in an envelope while looking through photos of her late mother. Shortly after she posted them online, a Twitter account belonged to the music venue Belfast Empire shared it with his 14.2k followers. The story was subsequently picked up by the BBC, who asked Anne for a comment. Incredibly, she remembers the night of the Depeche Mode show well.

“I remember he told me he was at the concert and had brought film for a camera – he wrapped his name and address around it and asked them to take pictures and send them back to him. He never thought he would get an answer at all. I don’t know how long after that, but he got the film back.”

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She also recalls how attached her brother was to the band and how much it meant to him when he received the photos back.

The case

So what’s the takeaway? Certainly not for throwing celluloid (or memory cards) at the next tape you watch, especially given the price of a roll these days. No, instead it is important to think outside the box and be bold. Do that, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. That means the next time you’re told, “No cameras allowed,” I challenge she to find a creative workaround (that doesn’t break the rules).

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