Every year when I write these wrap-ups I struggle to find a through line to tie things together. This year I’ve started and scrapped this post about a dozen times. It’s been a struggle to figure out how to fit in all of the things that made 2019 what it was. I’ve had difficult things like health scares, bouts with depression, and struggles at my day job; but I’ve also had great professional milestones, deep friendships, and fun road trips. This year, like most years I suppose, is a little good, a little bad and a lot undetermined. As I look back at 2019, I can’t help but hope that in 2020 the good continues to outweigh the bad.
ALMOST LOSING IT
The year started on a bit of a scary note. For the last few months of 2018 I had been struggling with a bunch of strange symptoms like weak muscles, sweating, irritability, rapid weight loss, incessant headaches and shaking hands. I didn’t know what was going on and was scared to find out. I did what everyone does and no one should – I googled my symptoms. The results included conditions like MS and muscular dystrophy and I was convinced I was on the precipice of a new phase of life. I was going to have to learn to live with a life-changing disorder. I postponed going to the doctor for a real diagnosis for two reasons, one, I didn’t want them to tell me not to take my vacation to Great Britain at the end of the year; and two, I was stubborn and stupid.
A few photos from my trip to Great Britain
When I returned from vacation I was in bad shape. I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes at a time without my legs beginning to shake like I had just run a marathon. My hands shook so much, I struggled to write, to eat, to drive, and most devastatingly to photograph or play bass. Those last two hit me hard. The two things I loved most in the world were being slowly taken from me.
In January of 2020 I anxiously entered my new doctor’s office. When I began listing of my symptoms, I could see him growing concerned. A blood pressure test showed my resting heart rate at 130bpm (which is crazy high). At that point he told me to sit tight for a second and sent nurses in to do an EKG. I’m starting to enter total freakout mode as I lay shirtless on the table with cold probes stuck to my chest. The doctor returns and tells me that he believes I have hyperthyroidism but wanted to do some blood tests to confirm. At this point I’m relieved to have a diagnosis, but still unsure what it means.
When the blood tests did indeed confirm that I had hyperthyroidism, I was put on medication to regulate my thyroid and slow my heart rate while I waited for the next phase of treatment. In early March I went to Christ Hospital for an Iodine 131 radiation treatment to “zap the thyroid” as my doctor would say. The nuclear medicine department gave me all kinds of moderately scary literature and rules about my contact with others once was given the treatment. I was not to be around anyone for a few days, not to share a bed, not to share a bathroom, not to be around anyone pregnant and a bunch of other things I can’t remember at this time.
It took some time but slowly my strength came back, as well as most of the weight I lost. When my hands stopped shaking enough, I began shooting shows again and even began playing bass regularly again after years of boredom with it. It took nearly losing these things to make me realize how much they mean to me. My hands still shake a bit from time to time, but I’m mostly my old self again.
So, what did I learn from 2019? Don’t take ___________ for granted.
That blank is whatever brings you joy, sets your heart racing and butterflies in your stomach. That blank is what gives you purpose, validation, and excitement. That blank is the people who inspire, love and support you. That blank is everything.
TELLING MY STORY… AGAIN
I’ve never been shy about my struggles with mental health and with alcohol. My story is not unique but it is important. I tell it not because I want pity or an excuse for past actions, but because it’s important for people to know that they are not alone. When going through depression or substance abuse, it feels like no one understands your problems or even cares. I’m here to tell you that they do… that I do.
I DIDN’T WANT TO TELL YOU
I was asked by Chad Cochran, a friend and photographer who I look up to and respect immensely, to tell my story in his series called I Didn’t Want To Tell You: Normalizing The Conversation Around Mental Health. In the series, Chad has the subject sit for a portrait and then asks them to talk about mental health and how it affects their lives. There have been some incredibly touching stories and I am honored to be a part of it.
For my birthday this year I decided to try to raise $200 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I pledged that if we hit $200 I would match it. We hit $200 within an hour, so I refocused the goal on breaking $1,000 raised. In three days we raised more than $1,100. I’ve never been more proud of or felt more blessed my family and friends. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please take action. Let them know there’s another way. Support them and guide them to the help they need to realize that they are worth it and people love them. Click the button below for information and resources for suicide prevention.
FIRST RYMAN SHOW
Over the years I’ve crossed off many bucket list artists. Now that my bucket list is dwindling, I’ve started searching out iconic venues to cover a show in. Venues like The Orange Peel, Tipitina’s, and The 9:30 Club fill out the list, but the venue at the top was the Ryman Auditorium. It’s place in music history is unmatched. Over the first weekend of April, myself and SlyVinyl music journalist Aaron Weaver traveled to Nashville to cover Gary Clark Jr.
900TH ARTIST PHOTOGRAPHED
I’ve long been a bit of a data nerd and began tracking stats for my concert photography almost immediately after starting. Never did I think that I’d reach more than 900 artists, but on August 16th crossed from 899 to 900 by covering the John Paul White set at Southgate House Revival. It’s exciting to think that in the next year or so I’ll likely break 1,000!
In October 2019 I began corresponding with a woman from the Science Museum of Minnesota who was helping to curate an exhibit for the Cincinnati Museum Center. They were interested in including a few of my photos in a permanent exhibit of Cincinnati history. After working out the particulars we finalized the agreement on November 27th and I’m eagerly awaiting the exhibit going live!
HOW DID I GET HERE?
I’m often surprised that I’ve somehow managed end up doing all of this. How in the hell did I get here? There are so many weird intersections where people have entered and exited my life, altering its course in a drastic way.
In 2013 I began a journal of sorts in google docs to help me remember all of the weird intricacies of my life and career. With a newfound appreciation of the opportunities I am given as a photographer, I began to retrace the steps that brought me to this point. Here’s a quick story, with many details left out for simplicity, to illustrate the wild and windy path to here.
- In the early 2000s I was in a band called Langus which I regularly promoted on the message boards of CincyMusic.com. We often played shows with a band called Patchwork. The guitar player in that band was, then underage prodigy, Eli Maiman.
- I left Langus in 2004. In 2005 I would answer a classified ad on Cincymusic.com for an artist named Peter Adams looking for a bass player. I auditioned and got the job.
- We go on our first tour in 2006 and I decide to buy my very first camera to make sure I remember it. I realize I really enjoy taking photos.
- When our keyboardist left to finish college in the fall of 2006, we searched for a multi-instrumentalist to fill that void.
- Eli, who I hadn’t seen in years shows up to audition and joins the band. In 2007 we parted ways as I went back to college to finish my degree.
- In 2011 I began doing concert photography (another weird coincidental story for another time).
- In 2013, I was recruited for the photo team at CincyMusic, the very site that connected me to the band whose tour got me to buy the camera into photography.
- In 2013 I photograph Eli who is now in the massively popular band Walk The Moon for Cincymusic.
See what I mean? Absolutely labyrinthine and beautifully intertwined. Maybe everyone’s life is this crazily coincidental, but I never cease to be fascinated by the way that seemingly innocuous events are the axes on which my path turns.
Anyway, it only seemed right to end this year and decade with a look back. Take a look at the timeline below for some milestones in my photography career.
RUBATO BY THE NUMBERS
THE BIG PICTURE
- 915 Artists photographed
- 15,649 Photos posted
- 32 Music Festivals photographed
- 289 Individual events photographed
- 330 Days shooting shows
- 1218 Sets of music photographed
- 212 Artists nominated for at least 1 Grammy Award
- 1,689 Total Grammy nominations by those 175 artists
- 121 Artists have won at least 1 Grammy Award
- 455 Total Grammy Award wins by those 104 artists
- 69 of those 104 have won multiple Grammy Awards
- 35 artists photographed are in Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAMERS PHOTOGRAPHED
- Beach Boys
- Neil Young (solo and Buffalo Springfield)
- Hall & Oates
- Dr John
- BB King
- John Mellencamp
- Steely Dan
- The Temptations
- Jackson Browne
- Van Halen
- Cheap Trick
- Steve Miller
- Gregg Allman
- Billy Joel
- Buddy Guy
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- Jack Casady / Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane)
- Pearl Jam
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Mavis Staples (Staple Singers)
- Rod Stewart (Solo and Faces/Small Faces)
- Green Day
- Graham Nash (CSNY and The Hollies)
- Parliament Funkadelic
- David Byrne (Talking Heads)
- Jeff Beck (Solo and in Yardbirds)
- Alice Cooper
- James Taylor
- Bob Weir (Grateful Dead)
- Brian Wilson
MOST GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
- Chick Corea – 65 nominations
- Willie Nelson – 55 nominations
- Dolly Parton – 48 nominations
- Emmylou Harris – 47 nominations
- Allison Kraus – 44 nominations
- Pat Metheny – 37 nominations
MOST GRAMMY WINS
- Alison Kraus – 28 wins
- Chick Corea – 22 wins
- Yo Yo Ma – 20 wins
- Pat Metheney – 20 wins
- BB King – 16 wins
- Herbie Hancock – 14 wins
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED ARTISTS
- Jason Isbell – 7 shows
- The National – 6 shows
- Walk The Moon – 6 shows
- Dawes – 6 shows
- Father John Misty – 6 shows
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VENUES
- Taft Theatre and Ballroom – 55 shows
- Riverbend Music Center/PNC Pavilion – 53 shows
- Southgate House Revival – 25 shows
- Memorial Hall – 16 shows
- Madison Theater – 14 shows
TOP PHOTOS OF 2019
TOP ALBUMS OF 2019
- Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
- Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
- Julia Jacklin – Crushing
- Orville Peck – Pony
- Anderson .Paak – Ventura
- Calexico / Iron & Wine – Years to Burn
- Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
- Jenny Lewis – On The Line
- Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
- Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
- Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
- The Highwomen – The Highwomen
- Bon Iver – i,i
- Hiss Golden Messenger – Terms of Surrender
- Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man
- The National – I Am Easy to Find
- Tyler Childers – Country Squire
- Ohtis – Curve of Earth
- The Wild Reeds – Cheers