The picture seems to be everywhere right now: young Bruce Springsteen, wearing a flannel shirt, Levis, biker boots, and a 1970s-style leather jacket.
He’s leaning on the front bumper of a really cool car, parked on a small-town street on a winter day, snow still in piles along the curb, a humble house in the background.
Springsteen looks like the Jersey-boy-next-door, a regular guy. But that car, a 1960 Corvette convertible, hints of glamour and life outside of this sleepy town.
This 1978 image, called “Corvette, Winter,” by New Jersey native Frank Stefanko, is in the public eye right now, for one reason: it’s on the cover of Springsteen’s new memoir “Born to Run” (Simon and Schuster), as well as the accompanying music compilation “Chapter and Verse” (Columbia Records).
Stefanko’s iconic “Corvette, Winter” is also one of more than 40 inspiring images on view in “Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey” at Morven Museum and Garden in Princeton, from Friday, November 18, through Sunday, May 14, 2017.
Curated by the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, the traveling exhibit showcases the work of five exceptional photographers who have captured Springsteen’s charismatic persona, as well as his more private, contemplative side, documenting the Freehold native’s musical and personal journey.
In addition to Stefanko, the exhibit features works by: Danny Clinch, a native of Toms River who once interned with Annie Leibovitz and has been shooting Springsteen in recent years; Ed Gallucci, who took pictures of youthful Springsteen and his group (before it was even called the E Street Band) for American rock magazine Crawdaddy; Eric Meola, noted for shooting the cover of “Born to Run”; and Pamela Springsteen, Bruce’s younger sister, who over the years has captured quiet moments of her brother in more personal settings.
There is also a series of video interviews with the photographers, discussing their background, influences, and stories about working with Springsteen.
While the majority of the exhibit focuses on the rock star off-stage, four additional live performance images shot by Barry Schneier will be showcased. These photos were taken during the now-famous Springsteen concert at Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge in May, 1974, where famed “Rolling Stone” journalist Jon Landau claimed, “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
Shot from onstage, Schneier captured a skinny Springsteen seated at the piano. A little research reveals that he was playing a solo acoustic version of “For You,” from his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park.”
As executive director of the Grammy Museum and a driving force behind the photography exhibit, Robert Santelli says the goal of the show is to define Bruce Springsteen in a new light.
“Each of these photographers was able to artfully document Bruce’s world at different stages of his career,” says Santelli, also a noted author and educator who taught at and graduated from Monmouth University and created the Popular Music Studies program there as well.
Raised in Point Pleasant Beach, Santelli was a rock critic and played guitar in bands that often gigged at the same Jersey Shore hotspots as Springsteen; he remembers “The Boss” before he had that nickname.
What first drew Santelli to Springsteen was his songs, which painted lyrical pictures as vibrant as the verbal musings of Bob Dylan, but also his strong identification with New Jersey.
“There was (and is) tremendous loyalty to Springsteen,” he says. “Springsteen was there for us, he was like the William Faulkner of New Jersey — he wrote about New Jersey the way Faulkner wrote about Mississippi.”
Springsteen photographer Stefanko — like “The Boss” and Santelli — is from New Jersey but closer to Philadelphia and radio station WMMR-FM, home of the late DJ Ed Sciaky — an early Springsteen acolyte. Stefanko says he first heard the nascent rock star via live radio broadcast from the old Main Point coffeehouse in Bryn Mawr, and his lyrics reached across the airwaves and grabbed him.
“This guy was singing these wild tunes that I really identified with,” Stefanko writes in his 2003 book, “Days of Hope and Glory” (Billboard Books). “Bruce’s words evoked those moments of being a teenager growing up in New Jersey, or any other small town in America. He was hitting those chords, and those familiar feelings were coming through the radio loud and clear,” he writes.
A photography enthusiast since his childhood years in Haddonfield, Stefanko was already shooting rock concerts when Springsteen called him up to take pictures for a future album project that would turn out to be 1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
Photos from these sessions would also illustrate Springsteen’s 1980 album, “The River.” Stefanko photographed Springsteen for the sparing solo project, “Nebraska,” as well.
“The Boss” found Stefanko through their mutual friend, poet and rocker Patti Smith. The photographer and the South Jersey-born Smith had both attended what was then Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), and Stefanko admired her look, intelligence, and brashness. “Patti was in the ionosphere,” he says, speaking from his home and studio in Palmyra. “She fascinated me.”
As for Springsteen, after releasing and touring to promote “Born to Run,” there was a bit of a time gap between recording projects, and Stefanko recalls that Springsteen was having problems finding the right look for the characters he was writing about.
“Then Bruce saw some of my photos of Patti and said, ‘this is the look I want,’” Stefanko says.
When Springsteen arrived at Stefanko’s house in Haddonfield for the photo sessions, he was welcomed into the still-being-furnished home by Stefanko’s late wife, Sheila.
The photographer and the rock star wandered around the place, and Stefanko finally had him settle on a window seat in the couple’s bedroom, just to create a mood. Looking a little like a young Al Pacino, Springsteen posed against the “Cabbage Rose” wallpaper that was up in the bedroom. One of these shots became the cover for “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” “Someone later called it the most famous wallpaper in the world,” Stefanko says.
The image “Corvette, Winter” was a piece of pure luck, apparently. In fact, Springsteen and Stefanko were on their way to go somewhere else to shoot.
“It was freezing when we walked outside, and I said to Bruce, ‘Why don’t you just lean on the car for a minute?’” Stefanko says. “He gave me a look, I snapped it, and that was that — I only took one shot. Ironically, I sell my Springsteen photos at galleries around the world, and that image has been sold out in several editions.”
“There were so many other pictures I took that day, and I wondered, ‘Why is this image the most popular?’” he says. “One day, I was staring at it and said, ‘Oh, now I get it.’ Bruce is leaning on the car, and across the street there’s a house with a porch, so it looks like he’s waiting for someone to come out.”
“I suddenly thought of his lyrics from ‘Thunder Road’: ‘From your front porch to my front seat/The door’s open, but the ride it ain’t cheap.’” Stefanko adds. “People figured it out: this picture evoked the thoughts and lines from the song.”
Sheila died in 1985, and “Days of Hope and Glory” has a dedication page to her, with a photo of a beaming Sheila being embraced by Springsteen, and the words “A Star Shines in the Sky.” Eventually, Stefanko married again — his high school sweetheart Carol, in fact — and the two have been together for about 15 years.
Stefanko’s photographic life began in 1954, around the age of eight, after finding his father’s old box camera. His dad, a carpenter, then bought him a couple rolls of film and taught him how to load them.
There was no formal art or photography training in Stefanko’s youth, but plenty of re-runs of old movies on TV, especially Westerns and black-and-white film noir classics, directed by the likes of John Houston and Fritz Lang.
“I couldn’t have had better art teachers,” Stefanko writes in “Days of Hope and Glory.” “I knew about composition, repetition of shape, subject placement, and tone. It was all there.”
What pushed him to the next level and motivated him to decide to make photography his life’s work was a 1950s TV crime drama called “Man With a Camera,” starring Charles Bronson. He portrays a former World War II combat photographer who goes to New York and uses his skills for freelance jobs and his own private detective work.
He “used a lot of different cameras and techniques to get evidence, and there were always scenes with Charles Bronson in the darkroom,” Stefanko says. “So I had to have a darkroom, and as I grew more adept at my craft, my dad bought me a $35 Federal enlarger out of his $100-a-week paycheck.”
“That was a big thing,” he continues. “Moreover, my dad built me a darkroom, framed it out in our basement, even made louvres, so the light couldn’t get through but it was well-ventilated. He was always very encouraging.”
“I moved up to a Besseler enlarger and was printing on Agfa Portriga Rapid paper, using Kodak Selectrol developer, to get warm, deep tones,” Stefanko writes. “I had taken fine art classes in high school as well as both art and photography courses in college. On weekends, I went to Manhattan and gave my photographs away at the Chelsea Hotel to get people to recognize my work.”
He names Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Diane Arbus as just a few of the photographers who first influenced him, and continue to do so. Even though he has never totally lost his love for film and the darkroom, Stefanko prefers digital technology today, for the immediacy of seeing his work as it’s created, as well as the convenience of being able to shoot and preserve hundreds of images.
In the United States his work is exhibited and sold at the Morrison Hotel Galleries in New York and Los Angeles, and the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles, among others. Working with several custom printers, Stefanko has had requests for his images in such specialized formats as platinum and archival pigment printing.
He says he doesn’t do assignments or photo sessions anymore, unless it’s a good friend like Springsteen or the Brooklyn-based feminist punk rock band The Shondes.
“If Bruce calls, I’m there; if The Shondes from Brooklyn call and want some photos for an album cover, I’m there, because they’re friends,” Stefanko says. “Basically, I shoot what I want, when I want.”
“I spent many years shooting weddings and bar mitzvahs, etc., things where you need to move fast and think on your feet, almost like a documentary photographer,” he says. “That end of the business is rough and quite frankly, I grew to hate it.”
“My wife and I would rather get on a plane and go somewhere pristine, and I enjoy doing landscapes in wild places, like Acadia National Park, Monument Valley, and the Everglades, where there is no footprint of man,” Stefanko says. “We want to preserve these places, because we don’t know how long they will last. That’s my real pleasure these days, working on portfolios of these landscapes.”
One such unspoiled location that Stefanko loves is Cape Breton Island, in the northern region of Nova Scotia.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, with stunning seascapes, waterfalls, eagles flying over the ocean, and then there are these little lobster and fishing towns, all kinds of boats in so many colors,” Stefanko says. “It’s one of many places that fill our souls and hearts.”
Most of his time recently has been devoted to a book project with internationally renowned photographer Guido Harari, whose owns and operates the Wall of Sound Gallery in Alba, Italy. Harari is designing and overseeing the production of Stefanko’s book, “Bruce Springsteen: Further Up the Road” (Wall of Sound Editions), due for publication in fall, 2017.
To call it a “book for fans” is an understatement: “Further Up the Road” sounds to be more of a Springsteen Magnum Opus, for pure connoisseurs.
“It will encompass my photos of Bruce from the beginning of our working relationship in 1978 to the present, along with anecdotes, personal history, etc.,” Stefanko says. “It’s a gigantic book, 320 to 360 pages, 11-by-15 (in size), in a clamshell box, with additional signed and numbered photos, suitable for framing.”
“All the books with be signed and numbered, and we’ll be publishing 1,978 of them — to go with 1978, the year when I first worked with Bruce,” he says.
The first 350 will be deluxe collector’s editions, in the price range of about $500. There will also be an exhibit of Stefanko’s photos at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo, to coincide with the book’s release next fall.
Although Stefanko has seen “Corvette, Winter” sell out numerous times, he didn’t imagine that it would become even more of a phenomenon once it was used on the cover of Springsteen’s memoir.
“I really was surprised,” he says. “About a year ago Simon and Schuster asked for some images, including a large-resolution version of Bruce and the Corvette. When I was informed they were going to use it for the book cover, I was elated.”
“I saw Bruce in February of 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center during ‘The River’ tour, in fact, I shot the concert,” Stefanko continues. “When I saw Bruce at the sound check, I said, ‘Thank you for choosing that image.’”
“Bruce chose that shot because it was a good character study, he felt that it represented him at the time,” he says. “But also, as I read through his memoir, I noticed there are so many references to that 1960 Corvette.”
Stefanko says the exhibit at Morven is a must-see for Springsteen fans, “But also, if you’re a fan of photography, it’s a must,” he says. “If you’re a fan of the ‘sons of New Jersey’ it’s a must. What you’ll see is an evolution, from a very young Bruce to his mature years, different stages of his life through images by different photographers. It’s a very intimate take on Bruce.”
Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey, Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Friday, November 18, through Sunday, May 14, 2017. $10, adults; $8, seniors, students and active military personnel; free, children 6 and under. For more on Frank Stefanko: www.stefankostudio.com. 609-924-8144 or www.morven.org.