THROUGH THE LENS: No Depression’s Roots Music Photos of the Year
Dolly Parton gets a kiss from Brandi Carlile at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival (photo by Anthony Mulcahy)
What makes an an outstanding photograph? The answer is more easily answered than accomplished. Simply put, it’s using the basic elements of lighting and composition to tell a story. While you want the photo to be technically correct, sometimes the subject matter or “the moment” is of primary importance.
Creating a good photo can be difficult for the performance photographer because while we want to communicate what the live performance was like, or capture that one indelible image, we lack control. We have no control over what happens on stage, the stage itself, the lighting, the venue, the demands of the artist, and often when and from where photos may be taken.
Moreover, what we look for, and attempt to capture, is spontaneity, the unguarded moment when something out of the ordinary happens. Sometimes an artist is spontaneous in their movements, and sometimes they have regular routines for each show. Some performers are more animated in their stage presence, while others simply stand in front of the mic, eyes closed, and even though the quality of the music may be quite high, a photographer has to make that image visually interesting as well. Photographers have to be ready, be in a position and alert enough to capture those moments in a photo. In short, performance photography is significantly more involved than clicking the shutter button.
With 23 photographers (named below) having taken several thousand photos in 2019, it is both a delight and an effort to whittle those down to a manageable number to feature in this week’s column showcasing the year’s highlights. My initial review revealed several hundred that could easily have been included. I then went over them again with an even more critical eye. While some have been included in this column earlier this year, many others have not because they did not fit into any featured themes.
My primary consideration was the quality of the image, the story it told and/or the spontaneity that was captured. One thing did stand out were many fine photos of musicians who don’t get photographed enough: drummers. So you’re going to see a nice selection of them. There are 78 photos in all, and what you will see is a representation of the best performance photos that any publication offers, regardless of genre.
Photo of the Year
I have not selected one before because there were simply too many that were too deserving. However, this summer Through the Lens featured a photo that has taken on a life of its own: Anthony Mulcahy’s photo of Brandi Carlile embracing Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival. Nearing the end of the “♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration” set, curated by Carlile, with Judy Collins, Courtney Marie Andrews, Maggie Rogers, Yola, Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, and The Highwomen on stage, Parton came out as a surprise guest. She and Carlile did “I Will always Love You” as a duet. Afterward, they embraced, and Anthony was there to capture it.
When I first saw the photo, I knew Anthony had captured a special moment. What neither of us knew is that quite a few other people thought it was special as well, including both Parton and Carlile. As would be expected, both No Depression and Anthony (@mulographynyc) posted it on their respective social media accounts. Then, Carlile reposted it on her Instagram account.
Usually that’s the end of it. However, a few weeks later the image found its way to an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show that featured The Highwomen. After the show, Carlile reached out to Anthony and requested three copies: one for herself, and two to be autographed, one for Anthony and one she later presented to Parton at the Country Music Association Awards.
An eagle-eyed reporter later spotted the photo in Parton’s CMA dressing room and notified Anthony. Anthony received his signed photo last week in a beautiful frame with a short note from Carlile expressing her gratitude.
And if that were not enough, the photo was also featured in a recent documentary on Parton that was aired on the ABC network. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Many thanks again to all the ND photographers who week after week bring you the best collection of music photographs. They are: Aaron Caleb Fishbein, Anthony Mulcahy, Boom Baker, Brenda Rosser, C. Elliott, Carol Graham, Chad Cochran (cowtownchad), Chris Griffy, Jim Gavenus, John Rominger, Kevin Smith, Kim Reed, Kirk Stauffer, Larry John Fowler, Lisa Costantino, Peter Dervin, Mark J. Smith (Photosmithdigital), Rob Laughter, Ross Nickow, Steve Ford, Steve Mack, Todd Gunsher, and Tom Bush.
Now, enjoy and appreciate the fruits of their labor.