This will be the first time that Frank Stefanko has shown his work in the UK, and we are delighted that he has chosen Snap to be the gallery to host this exhibition. Frank is perhaps best known for the photographs that appeared on the covers of Bruce Springsteen’s albums ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ and ‘The River’, and so while it’s mainly about The Boss, the exhibition also features photographs of two other important New Jersey musicians : Patti Smith and Southside Johnny Lyon. We were delighted that Frank and his wife Carol were able to attend the opening and share with us so many of his great stories behind the photographs.
Photographing Bruce Springsteen. Frank Stefanko’s photographs appeared on the covers of two consecutive Bruce Springsteen albums -1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, and “The River”, released in 1980. He is the only photographer with back to back Bruce Springsteen album cover credits, and his work also appears in the packages of “Live 1975/85”, “Greatest Hits”, “Tracks” and “The Essential Bruce Springsteen”.
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. The pictures were taken at Frank’s home in Haddonfield New Jersey in 1978. 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! ” The image used on the cover of “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, a colour photograph showing Bruce in a white T-Shirt and leather jacket, was taken in Frank’s bedroom. When he needed to choose a cover for “The River”, Bruce instinctively knew that the photograph he wanted was one made at that 1978 session. Bruce loved those two album cover images so much that he bought the rights to them. So while the cover photographs are Bruce’s and do not appear in the exhibition, Frank has selected some great out-takes from his personal archives for you to enjoy. While you can’t own a limited edition print of the actual covers, you can get pretty close, and with “Among the Cabbage Roses”, you can own the actual inner sleeve shot from “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. The story of Frank’s numerous shoots with Bruce Springsteen, both alone and with The E Street Band, in 1978 and again in 1982 for Nebraska are told beautifully by Frank in his 2003 book “Days of Hope and Dreams : an Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen” and if you haven’t read it we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Originally published in two versions, the luxury limited edition hardback has now sold out, but the softback version is still in print and will be available to purchase through the gallery while stocks last.
Frank photographed Bruce again in 2004 in Colt’s Neck New Jersey. These photographs, taken for Devils and Dust, are not widely known, and some of Frank’s favourites are being shown in exhibition for the first time. 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 will enjoy some of the photographs from that session that we chose to include among the many vintage shots in this exhibition.”
Photographing Patti Smith. Here’s the part where we remind you that while this exhibition is mainly about Bruce Springsteen, it also very much about Frank’s photographs of Patti Smith. In fact, Patti Smith provides a crucial link in the story because if Frank hadn’t met Patti at college, those amazing Bruce Springsteen images may never have existed. Frank would often tell Patti just how great he thought Bruce’s music was, and when she ran into Bruce at a party in New York she let it slip to Bruce that Frank was his biggest fan. She also told him about Frank’s work as a photographer. So it was Patti Smith who actually provided the connection to Bruce Springsteen, which lead to Bruce picking up the phone to fix up that first 1978 shoot : from which the covers of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “The River” were born.
Frank and and Patti became lifelong friends at college. Frank tells it best of all: “ There I was sitting in a booth at the co-op of Glasboro State College, a bucolic school tucked away in the farmlands of South Jersey. Suddenly the double doors of the co-op swung open and standing there in the vacuum created by their wake was an incredible apparition, a vision in a white leather coat with long jet-black hair flowing down her back. She moseyed in like the bad guy walking into a saloon in an old Western movie. This was the first time I set eyes on Patti Smith and I was captivated. At that very moment I knew I wanted to become friends.”
You can read all about Frank’s times photographing Patti in his recently published hardcover book ‘Patti Smith : American Artist’, an immensely warm and affectionate photographic memoir of their times together. To quote Frank again: “Four decades have passed since Patti burst through that college co-op doorway. I feel grateful that not only did I know her, but I’ve been able to maintain a lifelong friendship with her as well. Because of my friendship with her, I’ve experienced the honor and privilege of photographing her all these years, documenting the amazing evolution of an important and very special human being.”
Photographing Southside Johnny. Last but not least, what of Southside Johnny, the third Jersey native musician featured in the show? Frank made the cover photograph for
one of Southside’s best loved albums, 1978’s “Hearts of Stone”, with its Stax-influenced R&B arranged and produced by Steven Van Zandt, and featuring, for many listeners at least, the definitive version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hearts of Stone.” The photoshoot took place in Little Italy in Manahttan, in many different restaurants. The front cover was taken outside Puglia’s restaurant on Hester Street. As Frank remembers fondly : “ We made a lot of friends that day!”