I was heartbroken by the news yesterday that my dear friend/collaborator photographer Raeanne Rubenstein had passed away. Raeanne was one of the most talented of a generation of photographers who came of age during the rock renaissance of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Never trained in photography, she grabbed a camera when she was an undergraduate at U of Pennsylvania and then landed an internship on graduation with a London fashion photographer.
Returning to New York’s Lower East Side—then a hotbed of hippie culture—she became the “official staff photographer” for the East Village Other, the weekly alternative to the (old, staid) Village Voice. The Other’s offices were located above the Fillmore East, once a Yiddish theater, so Raeanne was there to capture all the action. I first met her when I was looking for a photographer to work on a book on the Fillmore’s concerts, and we immediately bonded over our shared East Coast/Jewish/’60s love of the cosmic and ironic. Raeanne shared many stories with me of her Fillmore days, including the time she attended a Thanksgiving dinner along with the staff of the Other and singer Janis Joplin, who had no other place to celebrate being far from home. They all became family for the meal.
Raeanne documented all the major rock acts, both local and those passing through, and became the “go-to” person when a photo was needed in a hurry. She told me how she received a call from Steely Dan’s manager who said they needed a photo of a pretzel cart and vendor—any pretzel cart and vendor—ASAP. The result graced their Pretzel Logic album cover, becoming one of rock’s most iconic and illusive images.
Raeanne was among the first to recognize the burgeoning country music scene, honoring both country’s elders and the newest country rockers. She shot many iconic photographs, including the day Gram Parsons went to Nudie the Rodeo Tailor’s shop to pick up his new suit embroidered with marijuana leaves. Her iconic image of Charlie Rich preening in a sideview mirror graced Peter Guarlanick’s classic profile of the singer’s wild life and career. I had the pleasure and honor of working with her on the book Gone Country which featured many new images shot in the early ‘90s, including Johnny Cash wearing a truly intimidating pair of knee-high, leather lace-up boots, and Emmylou Harris in a glamour shot enmeshed with lace.
But most important of all—beyond her incredible eye for the iconic image—was Raeanne’s endless energy and enthusiasm. Though small in stature, she was a giant personality, tootling around Nashville in her extra-long, ancient land yacht (she later steered a more appropriate Volvo). She was never daunted by the improbable, always looking for new areas for creativity. The only fault I can find was that she enjoyed a breakfast of cold spaghetti and pickles—always keeping a Costco-sized jug of kosher dills on hand for an emergency.
Raeanne was always looking for that future adventure—and I guess now she has found her final one. I will miss her endless optimism and ability to push forward against the odds.