2023 Year In Review

This year in review is a bit later than usual. I had a hard time figuring out a direction to take. In the meantime, while waiting for inspiration, I worked on a coffee table book of photos from a trip I took with my mom to Europe. When I visited the UK a few years back, I told my mom that she absolutely must make the trip sometime. There are a few different types of vacationers. First are the people who take a vacation to unwind and relax. Second are those looking for experiences and adventures. If your ideal vacation is relaxing on the beach or by a fireplace in a cabin in the woods, you’re probably philosophy one. That’s the type of vacationer my dad is. He busted his ass for decades as a small business owner and has earned the right to relax. My mom and I, however, are the second type. So, when I realized that my mom would not likely ever have the chance to take a long and relatively expensive trip to Europe with my dad, I decided that she and I should plan a trip.

Initially, we had planned for the trip to be in the fall of 2020 but were thwarted by the pandemic. While obviously a bummer, it gave us plenty of time to plan the perfect trip, which is half of the fun, if you ask me. We made plans to visit a few of the same places I had visited previously but opted to rent a car rather than rely on public transportation to give us more flexibility to explore.

My parents and I are very close; they have always been there for me. I was thrilled to give my mom the chance to go on this trip without forcing my dad to spend more than two weeks and thousands of dollars to take a vacation that isn’t his style. We spent seventeen days traveling through London, Bath, Northern Wales, The Lake District, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and even a few days in Paris. Most people I tell about my trip ask if Mom and I got on each other’s nerves on the trip, and I can honestly say, “No.” We had a blast, and it was the experience of a lifetime.

INSPIRATION FROM ONE OF MY EARLIEST SHOWS

While putting together the book to commemorate the trip, I remembered that I had created a coffee table book from my early years of concert photos called Rubato Photo: The First Five Years (2012-2016) with plans to make one every five years. The second five years ended in 2021, but I had not yet gotten around to creating the book. When the book from our trip was finished, I figured now was a good time to start the book from the second five years.

I began digging through my archives and was struck by how much I really enjoyed my black-and-white photos and that I don’t share them enough on my social media. So, I started scheduling posts to share five black-and-white images a day, selected at random from my catalog. I came across a photo from a multi-disciplinary event that included prints from photographer Mike Disfarmer, music from Bill Frisell inspired by Disfarmer’s photos, and a multi-screen video retrospective of the portraits timed precisely to Frisell’s music. It was the seventh show I ever photographed, way back in October of 2012.

A print of one of Mike Disfarmer's iconic portraits at The Emery Theater

That photo sparked my interest in refreshing my memory of the story of Mike Disfarmer. He was a photographer active in Heber Springs, Arkansas, from the 1920s to the late 1950s, whose archive was discovered in the 1970s, more than a decade after his death. Peter Miller purchased boxes of negatives before the studio was demolished and immediately recognized the quality and historical value of the photos. Miller began attempting to find the subjects of the portraits, giving them free prints of the images. Eventually, the archive gained notoriety, and Miller released a book of the photographs in 1976 called Disfarmer: Heber Springs Portraits, 1939-1946. The book’s release opened a pandora’s box of legal fights. Simply purchasing the negatives doesn’t necessarily give Miller the right to duplicate the photos, much like buying an album doesn’t give someone the right to reproduce and sell it for their own profit.

Patrons appreciating Disfarmer's work at The Emery Theater

It gets even more complicated because copyright laws have changed since the original photos were taken to protect artists from this exact situation. But it’s unclear how the law applies to works created before the change. It’s a crazy story that touches on many fascinating topics, including an intimate look at early wet plate photography, life in rural Arkansas in the early 20th century, the complications of copyright law, and the value of preserving art. I highly recommend reading this article from The New Yorker for a very well-researched and in-depth look at the situation.

Legacy Preservation vs Ego Inflation

Researching Disfarmer resulted in two things. First, I found and bought a first edition of the book published by Miller that will arrive in a few days. Second, I started thinking about what would happen to my photos when I was gone? I have no children to pass them on to. I’d bet that unless I specifically spell out my wishes, the hard drives full of tens of thousands of photos would end up collecting dust on a shelf or, worse, in the trash. As an artist, is it our responsibility to ensure that our work is preserved posthumously? Just because these photos mean something to me, do they have enough value for subsequent generations to save?

As a musician, I see instruments for sale by a relative of a deceased family member and always hope they have had help determining the value of the instruments. There are legends of people scoring a 1954 Fender Stratocaster for only a few hundred bucks because someone just googled “Fender Stratocaster value” without realizing that one from that year would likely be worth six figures or more. But at least in that case, there are experts that can be recruited for help and sales records to compare to. How do we convey the historical value of artwork with no functional value (like a vintage guitar or a classic car) or conventionally recognized value (like the works of famous artists) to future generations?

How do I ensure that my legacy as a photographer is preserved? Does that even matter, or is it just ego? I’m not sure, but I’d be lying if I said the thought of my photos disappearing with me didn’t give me anxiety. I suppose it’s never too early to start thinking about a last will and who I want to control my archives when I’m gone, hopefully, many years and thousands more concerts from now.

MENTAL HEALTH MINUTE

Each year, I post a little update on my mental health for two reasons. First, is to hold myself accountable, at least once a year, to really ask myself “how are you doing?” That kind of regular check in on my mental health has sometimes been the moment I realize I’ve been struggling with depression or have been avoiding dealing with something I need to face. Conversely, I think 2023 was the best my mental health has been since my car accident back on Christmas Eve 2005 (full story in my 2017 Year In Review). Usually, the holidays are a difficult time for me because of the timing of the accident. This year, I thought would be even tougher than usual because it would be our first Christmas since losing my last grandparent. My Grandma and I were very close and she was always the most supportive person in my life, no matter how much of a jackass I was at the time. So, I expected the depression to hit hard with her not there. Instead, it was the opposite.

During my trip with my mom in the fall, we brought along a photo of Grandma and took selfies with her all across the UK. Before her passing, I would spend a few Friday evenings a month hanging out with her. We would watch tv, play games, and just talk about life. They are some of my favorite memories that I’ll hold onto forever. When Christmas Eve rolled around, I didn’t feel the loss that I expected. I think, because I have no regrets and feel at peace with her passing. Instead of being sad that she wasn’t there, I realized that through the traditions she and my grandpa passed down and the example of unconditional love, she was still there with us.

In 2023, for Mental Health Awareness Month, I interviewed Chad Cochran, a friend, photographer and mental health advocate for a pair of podcast episodes. We told our stories and talked about a wide range of mental health topics.

TOP ALBUMS OF 2022

TOP ALBUMS

Here are my top albums of 2023. Did I miss your favorite? Did you discover anyone from my list?

  1. The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein
  2. Margo Price – Strays
  3. Lana Del Rey – Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard?
  4. Jason Isbell – Weathervanes
  5. Boygenius – The Record
  6. Sufjan Stevens – Javelin
  7. The National – Laugh Track
  8. Durand Jones – Wait Til I Get Over
  9. BlondshellBlondshell
  10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra –  Nadja
  11. Julie Byrne – The Greater Wings
  12. Fever Ray – Radical Romantics
  13. Mitski – This Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
  14. Hiss Golden Messenger – Jump For Joy
  15. Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

LISTEN ON SPOTIFY

RUBATO BY THE NUMBERS

THE BIG PICTURE

  • 1,141 Artists photographed
  • 21,217 Photos posted
  • 40 Music Festivals photographed
  • 365 Individual events photographed
  • 442 Days shooting shows
  • 1,550 Sets of music photographed
  • 279 Artists nominated for at least 1 Grammy Award
  • 2,144 Total Grammy nominations by those 179 artists
  • 154 Artists have won at least 1 Grammy Award
  • 556 Total Grammy Award wins by those 138 artists
  • 88 of those 179 have won multiple Grammy Awards
  • 45 artists photographed are in Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAMERS PHOTOGRAPHED

  • Alice Cooper
  • BB King
  • Beach Boys
  • Billy Joel
  • Brian Wilson
  • Buddy Guy
  • Cheap Trick
  • Chicago
  • David Byrne (Talking Heads)
  • Dead & Co. (Grateful Dead Members)
  • Dolly Parton
  • Doobie Brothers
  • Dr John
  • Eagles
  • Earth Wind & Fire
  • Elvis Costello
  • Graham Nash (CSNY and The Hollies)
  • Green Day
  • Gregg Allman
  • Hall & Oates
  • Heart
  • Jack Casady / Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane)
  • Jackson Browne
  • James Taylor
  • Jeff Beck (Solo and in Yardbirds)
  • John Mellencamp
  • Journey
  • Judas Priest
  • Lionel Richie
  • Mavis Staples (Staple Singers)
  • Neil Young (solo and Buffalo Springfield)
  • Patti Smith
  • Parliament Funkadelic
  • Pearl Jam
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rod Stewart (Solo and Faces/Small Faces)
  • Rush
  • Santana
  • Steely Dan
  • Steve Miller
  • The Temptations
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  • Van Halen
  • ZZ Top

MOST GRAMMY NOMINATIONS

  • Chick Corea – 71 nominations
  • Willie Nelson – 59 nominations
  • Dolly Parton – 51 nominations
  • Taylor Swift – 47 nominations
  • Emmylou Harris – 47 nominations
  • Allison Kraus – 46 nominations

MOST GRAMMY WINS

  • Alison Kraus – 28 wins
  • Chick Corea – 24 wins
  • Yo Yo Ma – 21 wins
  • Pat Metheney – 20 wins
  • Willie Nelson – 16 wins
  • BB King – 16 wins

MOST PHOTOGRAPHED ARTISTS

  • Jason Isbell – 9 shows
  • Dawes – 9 shows
  • The National – 8 shows
  • Walk The Moon – 6 shows
  • Wood Brothers – 6 shows
  • Cheap Trick – 6 shows
  • Saintseneca – 5 shows
  • Father John Misty – 5 shows
  • Twenty One Pilots – 5 wins
  • John Moreland – 5 shows
  • The Lone Bellow – 5 shows
  • Anderson East – 5 shows
  • Kurt Vile – 5 shows
  • The Lone Bellow – 5 shows

MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VENUES

  • Riverbend Music Center/PNC Pavilion – 70 shows
  • Taft Theatre and Ballroom – 64 shows
  • Brady Music Center – 34 shows
  • Southgate House Revival – 28 shows
  • Memorial Hall – 20 shows
  • Madison Theater – 16 shows
  • Heritage Bank Center – 15 shows

TOP PHOTOS OF 2022

Author avatar
Brian Bruemmer
https://rubatophoto.com