Remembering Photographer Tony Ziemba, Phoenix’s Biggest Local Music Fan

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For some local musicians, it was hard not to be familiar with Tony Ziemba; the 60-year-old photographer attended somewhere close to 500 shows a year. Ziemba lost his battle to cancer on Monday, February 27, but during his struggle, many local musicians visited him in hospice and even performed bedside concerts for him one last time.

“It was just so cool because almost any gig you played, you were guaranteed to have a friendly face,” said Marc Oxborrow, bassist in the Haymarket Squares. “We went and saw him again last Wednesday at the Ryan House, the hospice place where he was staying, and played for him again. … Hopefully, we were able to bring him a little pleasure in his very last days.”

Born in Hudson, New York, Ziemba had a passion from a young age for following musicians with a camera. He chased the Grateful Dead around, and during the ’70s, he worked as the principal photographer and New York correspondent for Dark Star, a British rock ’n’ roll magazine. Antithetically, he earned dual degrees in economics and finance and maintained a career on Wall Street as a data architect.

At a swing-dancing function, Ziemba met Elaine Campbell, his partner and fiancé of 10 years. They moved to Arizona and he began to snap photos of musicians here. He never charged for his photographs.

“He was very shy and quiet, and would never had spoken to any of them. But he had me, and I would go up and introduce myself, become friends with them,” Campbell told New Times with a growing waver in her voice. “He was just really happy if they used his pictures or even commented, just ‘great shot.’ He was really trying — I’m going to break down — he just really wanted to help them.”

Many musicians — including several out-of-state acts — came to visit and perform for Ziemba in his last days. Among them are Marah Armenta, Luis Martinez, Korbe Canida, Megyn Neff, Sarah Chapman, the Haymarket Squares, John Samora, Big Nick, Whiskey Kiss, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold, and too many others to list here.

“It was only fitting that we could, at least in some way, give back to him,” said Mark Allred, slide guitarist in the Haymarket Squares.

Friends and family described Ziemba as generous, humble, and almost omnipresent. He and Campbell didn’t watch any TV — instead, “every night, we were going out to do something fun, to see live music, or to go dancing,” she recalled.

“You were sort of like upset if they weren’t at a show, which was sort of ridiculous because they were at so many,” Oxborrow said, laughing.

Campbell inherited Ziemba’s Canon 60D and his lenses — she plans to carry his torch.

“I’m learning,” she said. “I can’t do the post-production stuff like he did, but I’m going to try my very best to still get out and see our local musicians and capture them.”

“It was kind of a weird roller coaster when we went and saw him [in hospice],” Allred said. “I really did have the feeling that this was probably going to be the last time I was ever going to see him. And it kind of was like, sad, but I’m playing music, which is kind of a joyful thing, but it’s a mix of all of it, and so putting all that into the music and seeing him enjoy it, that’s the thing I will try and remember the most.”

A memorial service for Ziemba will be held on April 15 to allow family members time to fly out. You can see Ziemba’s photographs on his website, capturedlive.us.

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