It seems that with the invasion of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, picture taking has experienced a growth of immense proportions. And although this is a great springboard for the subsequent crop of artists, these programs offer little in the way of showing anyone actual experience or ways to earn credibility. And it’s become a huge problem, especially in the local scene.
As Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) quoted in Jurassic Park, “I’ll tell you the problem with what you’re using here: It didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done, and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.”
Still, there are numerous photographers in New Jersey that have put years into paying dues and learning the art of photography long before digital, and the internet turned everyone with an iPhone into an overnight superstar. Those dues-paying photographers have endured, studying not only the rare art of catching extraordinary “in the moment” images, but also incorporating all there is to know about their subjects and the environment they thrive in.
Debra Rothenberg is one of those artists. From her initial beginning in a music-loving family, Rothenberg dug deep, investigating the options of a budding creative and centering her sights on the grandiose sector of the entertainment industry. As a young and somewhat frustrated musician—she made attempts at piccolo, flute and clarinet before switching to her 35mm medium—Debra anxiously watched her brothers cover their rooms in Beatles memorabilia while taking up mop tops and electric, rock and roll instruments of the day.
And while she could have just given up her pursuit of the mostly unobtainable music business, Debra shifted gears, setting sights on film, and as her father before her, the craft of still photography.
In the years that followed, Debra immersed herself in this chosen craft, excelling at the art of capturing emotion and real-time vitality on stages and locations. The eventual culmination of that training was rewarded with her work appearing in national publications such as Rolling Stone, Q Magazine, People, Us Weekly, Time and Newsweek.
Debra’s first brush with photographic credibility actually came from the Southside Johnny camp when they contacted her for a photo that she had taken. That photograph ended up on the cover of Southside Johnny’s Reach Up And Touch The Sky, and it set Debra on her wonderful journey as a professional and nationally recognized shooter.
From her very first shot of Bruce Springsteen taken as a college student back in early 1980 to the very last (and most nostalgically important to Debra) Rochester, NY date in 2012, Rothenberg chronicles her passion of all things Bruce in her brand new book, Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 – Photos By Debra L. Rothenberg.
Like I said earlier, there are many great photographers that document historic timelines in and around New Jersey, but few have truly gone the distance, checking off exact concert dates and filling pages with highly interesting stories in smooth chronological order. That continuity is the backbone here, and it makes the book a fascinating look into the stage life of a man known as New Jersey’s most famous rock and roll son.
Make no mistake about it: Rothenberg is a significant Bruce fan. But it wasn’t always the case. Her initial introduction to the Boss was met with the uninterested reaction of a teenage girl more interested in other pop icons of the day than anything this blue collar townie had to offer back then. But in a very short time, Rothenberg came to understand the music in a personal way, moving from occasional listener to full-blown fan in a matter of months.
As I read through this comprehensive and definitive journey, I couldn’t help but smile at her natural enthusiasm for the man and his music. I am more of a private appreciator of Springsteen, noting to anyone that will listen that I enjoy Born In The U.S.A., Nebraska and Tunnel Of Love above all others. But Rothenberg is a true expert when it comes to Springsteen, and her 32-year connection with the artist literally blazes onto the pages of Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 – Photos By Debra L. Rothenberg.
The book consists of shots taken from tours, clubs and filming locations. The engaging capture of the musician and his acclaimed band are interspersed with touching quotes and personal stories from celebrities such as Bruce Hornsby, Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and Jesse Malin, as well as recollections from journalists, novelists and even Light Of Day’s own Bob Benjamin.
The overabundance of raw action carried in this book is mind-boggling. I especially love the timeline showcase of guest stars through the years and the in-depth pictorial detail of Bruce’s most fascinating and iconic guitars. It’s also exciting to go through the decades and see the personal changes in both his appearance and his choice of other instruments. And while I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a whole lot of changes with the Boss over the years when it comes to image, occasionally there are pictures, such as the two-page spread from 1987, where he’s seen wielding a pointy, whammy bar-equipped Kramer, which injects something a bit unconventional from the universal image we all know.
But that is the point of capturing how much he enjoys performing. When he is on stage at a club with friends or local musicians—many times speechless beneficiaries of his special guest presence—he isn’t afraid to pick up any guitar and perform as if it was custom fit to his fingers.
The club photos are the most vital and unique. Being at the right place can be tricky, but Rothenberg literally materializes in front of Bruce just as he slips onto the stages unannounced and proceeds to wow unsuspecting fans with his legendary powerhouse performances. As Debra says in her book, when it comes to the fans, their joy is his joy.
Rothenberg has done her homework with the book, and the photographic and literary capture of Springsteen’s on stage permanence has reportedly already made this book a top pre-seller across the nation. With over 250 memorable images capturing the energy of Bruce at the perfect time, this is a loving tribute that offers the man at his best, if not most publicly intimate time on stages, both local and around the world.
There are quite a few Springsteen offerings out there, but this is the most unique graphic I’ve seen to date. Inspiring, full of fast-paced rock and roll life and a chronological brilliance that paints Bruce timeless, the book also offers a dignified wistfulness for the E Street members who are no longer with us.
Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 – Photos By Debra L. Rothenberg is the classic story of an American troubadour through the eyes of an artist who understands the rare skill of timing, perseverance and patience.
Whether you’re a longtime fan or first time believer, you will not be treated to a more captivating and colorful read on Bruce Springsteen and his world.
Debra Rothenberg will be appearing at the mythical Stone Pony this Saturday, Oct. 12, for an in-person launch party for the new book. There will be special musical guests (you never know) after the signing, and books are available at the Stone Pony door or at BookTowne by calling 1-732-722-7255 or visiting them online over at booktowne.com.
To check out Debra’s comprehensive portfolio that includes photos of Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Slash and so many, many more, head over to debrarothenberg.com.