Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photographing Bruce Springsteen

Although I'm known for my work in color photography, I've made a lot of photographs of Bruce Springsteen, and I chose, for the most part, to photograph him in black-and-white.

I'll be having an exhibit of those photographs in August at Snap Galleries in London: Springsteen Exhibit

Many of the images in the exhibit were taken for the album "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which is rumored to be re-issued as a deluxe CD set near the end of 2010.  This is from the introduction to the exhibit:

In the late Seventies, several events occurred during the two years that Bruce Springsteen worked on the lyrics for the songs on the album Darkness on the Edge of Town.  The Buddy Holly Story was released in May of 1978, and featured a blistering portrayal by Gary Busey.   However, it was a far lesser known film, Heartland, starring the actor Rip Torn, which affected Bruce; its bleak vision of early life on the prairie would be reflected in the opening line of “Badlands”: “Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland...”
In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon’s trip around what he termed America’s “blue highways,” would affect Bruce as well as countless Americans who were hypnotized by his portrayal of common Americans, such as a barber in Dime Box, Texas.  Moon had, to paraphrase Springsteen, lost his money and lost his wife, and he gone out to find what was left in the heartland.  If the heart of Born to Run is in the line “...I want to know if love is real,” then the soul of Darkness on the Edge of Town is in the song “Badlands”: “I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got.”
In the fall of 1977 I spent days looking at maps, and then settled on a stretch of Route 80 between Salt Lake City, Utah and Reno, Nevada.  Finally, the plans came together—we would fly out to Salt Lake, find an old car, and drive it across the desert to Reno.  Then, the  day before we were due to leave, Elvis died.
We flew to Salt Lake on schedule, and spent an afternoon in used car lots, finally settling on a red convertible—a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500XL with bucket seats.  In my mind, I was already visually closer to what would be the album Nebraska than I was to “Darkness.”   I was focused on the landscapes and, to a lesser extent, Bruce.  That vision would have to wait for David Michael Kennedy’s stark, chilling, almost anonymous photograph through a car windshield.
The conversation during our drive across the desert was about the “Memphis Mafia,” and Elvis. Then something happened that was...well, almost biblical.  We had come to a place marked on the map as Unionville, just to the west of Battle Mountain.  Nearby was an abandoned one-room schoolhouse and a cabin where Mark Twain once lived.  I took some photographs of the gravel road, and of Bruce driving towards the camera, as the sky began to darken.  It was August...August 22nd.  We had spent the night before in Elko, and because we had been driving all day and all night, we tried to fall asleep in the car.  But on that restless night, I slept fitfully on the hood of the Galaxie, listening to the sound of dogs howling all along Main Street.
We left the road at Unionville, and grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby roadside cafe.  When we went back, the sky had gone black and the wind had come up.  I photographed more images including a shot of Bruce in front of the car, leaning on the hood—a long, thin, dusty dirt road going off in the distance behind him, disappearing over Battle Mountain.  It began to rain, and flashes of lightning filled the valley floor.  It was one of those days and moments that stay with you to the grave.   There was that strong, fresh, electric smell of ozone after lightning has cleared the air, and the feel of moisture mixed with dry desert wind—something I had felt only once before.
Weeks later, I would be haunted when I heard the lyrics to “The Promised Land”:
There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
The dogs on Main Street howl
‘cause they understand...
We flew back home a few days later, and most of those landscape images were never used, like much of what I shot for Bruce during those years.  Bruce was transfixed by that storm, and by my photograph of those “dark clouds rising from the desert floor.”  However, Jackson Browne had released an album in late 1977, called Running on Empty, and it featured a stylized road going off to the horizon.  More importantly, Frank Stefanko’s photograph, which was used on the cover of “Darkness,” gave a more visceral sense of what the album was about—those dark, lonely moments when “the night’s quiet, and you don’t care anymore.”  One of the best afternoons of my life was spent with Frank, where he made that photograph in Haddonfield, New Jersey.
Frankie, Danny Clinch, Lynn Goldsmith, Barbara Pyle, and many other good photographers—we're all fortunate that our
 work is a testament to our craft and that Bruce's career has persevered through so many decades.  In many ways, our images have gone beyond just being photographs; they have defined Bruce, or at least the public’s perception of him and of his songs.  
Going through my files and choosing some of the images for this exhibit has been a journey of memories—afternoons in Holmdel at Telegraph Hill Road, drives up and down “gravity hill,” days in the studio, and E Street softball games.  All good times, simply trying to put a visual sensibility on lyrics that have resonated with me and with most of us as we grew up over the past few decades.  Bruce’s words have informed a generation and changed many of us profoundly.  
I can only hope that some of my photographs reflect who he is and what those words mean to me.


  1. While not the iconic Meola image, "Darkness" is perhaps, no - it is my favorite. The great background story only makes it more symbolic, if that's possible.

  2. Thanks Eric. Great stories. Great images.

  3. I was drawn to these photos because they are in the purest sense, beautifully simple. However, I also own a red 1965 Ford Galaxie! I would absolutely love to see more of these photos!

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