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Bruce Springsteen by Frank Stefanko2019-02-27T13:12:28+00:00

Project Description

Frank Stefanko has been documenting Bruce Springsteen, photographically, off and on, for almost forty years.

He looks back to where the journey started recalls: “I am reminded of the day my phone rang and a gravelly voice on the other end said, ‘Hey Frankie, this is BRUCE. Let’s get together and make some photos.’

It was early 1978, and we were about to embark on  several sessions for the album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. What I didn’t realize , at the time, was that our working relationship , and our friendship, would last for decades to come. Back when I first heard Bruce’s music in the early 70’s, I had a strong feeling that he would be famous. I had no conception, however, as to what a monumental icon he would become , or to the exalted heights he would ascend.

As we started to talk, I learned that our backgrounds were similar. In fact, Bruce could have been my brother. Both of us raised in  New Jersey by working-class parents, we both had Italian mothers and non-Italian fathers. we liked the Jersey shore, cars, and Rock and Roll.”

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness front cover square crop (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Darkness back cover square crop (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Among The Cabbage Roses (1978)
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It is always a special moment when a photographer is re-united with long lost negatives.

The three photographs that you see here and three that appear later – all from negatives previously thought lost forever – are now available to order for the first time, in a range of sizes.

We will let Frank tell the story of the lost negatives: “Forty years ago, when Bruce Springsteen and I were working on the album cover photos for Darkness on the Edge of Town, some of my babies slipped away and were lost for decades. Back then, before the days of digital photography and lightening fast E-mail, I used film in analog cameras. The processing and the transportation of these images was notoriously slow.”

“So when Bruce called and asked for certain images to be sent to the record company “right away”, there was no time to print and ship the photos overnight. As a result, I dispatched original negatives, with the understanding that these would be returned to me in short order. I did receive many of my negatives back. Nevertheless, some of my original “Darkness” out-takes went missing. Lost for four decades!”

Bruce Springsteen, Lost Darkness 12
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Bruce Springsteen, Lost Darkness 9
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Bruce Springsteen, Lost Darkness 4
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Bruce Springsteen recalls the first time he met and shot with Frank Stefanko. “I’d gotten to know Patti Smith a little through our work together on ‘Because the Night’. When I visited her during one of her performances at The Bottom Line, she gave me the name of a South Jersey photographer and said, ‘You should let this guy take your picture.’

One winter afternoon I drove south to Haddonfield, New Jersey, and met Frank Stefanko. Frank had photographed Patti at the beginning of her career. My recollection is he borrowed a camera for the day, called a teenage kid from next door to come hold up his one light and started shooting. I stood against some flowery wallpaper in Frank and his wife’s bedroom, looked straight at the camera, gave my best ‘troubled young man’ look and he did the rest. One of those photos ended up on the cover of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Frank’s photos had a purity and a street poetry to them. They were lovely and true, but they weren’t slick. Frank looked for your true grit and he naturally intuited the conflicts I was coming to terms with. His pictures captured the people I was writing about in my songs and showed me the part of me that was still one of them. We had other cover options but they didn’t have the hungriness of Frank’s pictures.”

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness Contact Sheet (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Corvette Winter (1978)
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Frank recalls the story behind one of his most popular images, ‘Corvette, Winter’: “On the day of the shoot, Bruce pulled up in front of my house in a slick, 1960 Corvette. It was freezing cold, with vestiges of snow on the ground. But we decided to go out into the streets of Haddonfield in order to shoot some location shots in town.”

“When we walked out of the house, there was that gleaming Corvette. I said, ‘Why don’t you go over and lean on the hood?’ Bruce leaned on the hood, shot a glance back at me, and I snapped it. I only took one shot with that car. Little did I realize, that singular shot, called Corvette Winter (A play on a movie called Corvette Summer), would turn out to be my biggest selling, and most popular Springsteen photograph. It was later chosen to become the cover of Bruce’s autobiography.”

Bruce Springsteen, Frank’s Barbershop (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Indian King (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Bound (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Badlands (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Lost Green Shirt 5
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Bruce Springsteen, Lost Green Shirt 12
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Bruce Springsteen, red t-shirt (1978)
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Frank continues: “The following weekend, two large sedans pulled up in front of my house. Steve Van Zandt drove one, and Clarence Clemons drove the other. They parked on my residential little street, and from those two vehicles, emerged Bruce Springsteen and the entire E Street Band.”

Bruce Springsteen, Bangin’ the Pleasure Machine (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, The Sitdown at Shellows (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, The Smiling Parking Meter (1978)
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Another time in 1978 I photographed Bruce and the band, high over Manhattan, on the roof of the Record Plant. What an exhilarating day!

Bruce Springsteen, Over Manhattan (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, The Hook (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Saint in the City (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Jungleland (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, The Crew (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Leap of Faith (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Darkness Tour (1978)
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The River

Many people don’t realise that the cover photographs for both Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River were made on the same weekend, the very first two days that Frank Stefanko ever photographed Bruce Springsteen. There was no separate shoot for The River – Bruce is wearing different clothes because he brought an old supermarket bag filled with old denim and plaid shirts, T-shirts and jeans to the shoot. As Frank remembers fondly : “That was his wardrobe, all crumpled up in a paper grocery bag!”

“After I had completed all of the shooting sessions in 1978, I gave Bruce a stack of contact sheets so that he could peruse them at his convenience, and choose images he may want me to work on. In 1980 when Bruce was mixing The River album in Los Angeles, I got a call around two in the morning. After a few exchanges I finally got the good news. ‘Hey Frankie we have your photographs spread all over the room here and I think we have our River cover.’ And just like that I had done two of Bruce’s record covers in a row.”

Bruce Springsteen, The River (1978)
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Bruce Springsteen, Lost River cover – full frame
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The Nebraska sessions

After the thrill of working with Bruce on both the Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River albums, I didn’t allow myself the luxury of expecting to be called again. But to my great surprise, in May 1982, the phone rang and that familiar raspy voice on the other end beckoned me to have another go-round. This time it was for Nebraska.

During several sessions for the album when Bruce came to Haddonfield, we walked around the streets at two in the morning…while the rest of the town was asleep. We were both exhausted so I invited Bruce to stay the night and get an early start the next day. He had no trouble falling right to sleep in a bed graciously given up by one of my sons.

So, although I missed the opportunity of getting my third Bruce Springsteen album cover in a row (an image by David Michael Kennedy was ultimately chosen), I did succeed in shooting a great many portraits that have worked nicely in representing that time period.

Bruce Springsteen, The Thinker (1982)
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Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska Contact Sheet (1982)
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Bruce Springsteen, The Eye of the Pyramid (1982)
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Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska 12 (1982)
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Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska 1 (1982)
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The 2004 Colts Neck session

Frank recalls that session as follows: “Just a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2004, I received a phone call from Bruce. He said “Hey Frankie…lets get together and pop off a few photos, catch up with each other and have a few laughs”. 

Who could resist such an offer? Beside, this would be an opportunity to extend my portfolio beyond the 1978 to 1982 photographs. And now after quite a while…a new shoot. Bruce invited me up to his horse farm in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey. Bruce and I got right to the business of photography, conversation, and some laughs…as promised. We worked from midmorning into the evening and I feel I’ve captured a more mature and wiser Bruce Springsteen than the young man I photographed in 1978. It was great spending time with my old friend during the Colt’s Neck Series and I hope you enjoy some of the photographs from that session that we chose to include here.”

Bruce Springsteen, Dusk to Dawn (2004)
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Bruce Springsteen, Long Night (2004)
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Bruce Springsteen, Colts Neck Contact Sheet (2004)
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