Constitution Daily

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Seeing through the darkness

February 24, 2012 by Stefan Frank


Every Friday throughout the run of From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, we will publish dedicated content inspired by Bruce Springsteen and the First Amendment. “Freedom of Expression Fridays” will feature unique and original posts by staff writers, musicians, visual artists, and more, with a focus on a range of issues including protest, dissent, and the role of art in politics and political campaigns.


Before becoming Bruce’s Springsteen’s photographer in the late 1970’s, Frank Stefanko had become a fan. In an interview conducted last week at the National Constitution Center, Stefanko revealed how inspired and excited he felt the first time he heard Bruce on the radio (a live show from The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, PA). As a New Jersey native from a working class town, he could relate to the artist’s persona “like he was a brother.”


Stefanko had been traveling up to Manhattan on weekends to photograph college friend and singer-songwriter Patti Smith, who had her own personal connection to Bruce. The two were friends, and attended each others shows. Smith had been photographed by all the great New York photographers such as Richard Avedon, Bill King, and Annie Leibovitz, but something about Stefanko’s work resonated with Springsteen. Ironically, before becoming Frank Stefanko’s subject, Bruce Springsteen had become his fan.


Smith offered to introduce the two men, and in the winter of 1978 Bruce reached out. Here’s Stefanko describing that first phone call and how the world famous singer eventually ended up in his modest Haddonfield, NJ home for a photo shoot:


[audio: /images/uploads/blog/Clip_Darkness_Shoot.mp3]


Springsteen said, in his introduction to Stefanko’s book Days of Hope and Dreams: An Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen, “In the aftermath of Born to Run, he (Frank) latched on to the very conflicts and ideas I was struggling to come to terms with: Who am I? Where do I go now? He showed me the people I was writing about in my songs. He showed me the part of me that was still one of them.”


Here Stefanko describes, in his own words, the evolution of Springsteen the song writer and storyteller, and how they both went about capturing the essence of the characters portrayed on Darkness and Bruce’s fifth record, The River:


[audio: /images/uploads/blog/Clip_Song_Themes.mp3]


In those days, Springsteen and Stefanko had the luxury of time and space to develop their work without the inherent pressures of the record business today (including the use of digital photography). It’s what allowed Bruce to develop into what Stefanko refers to in this clip as the “total artist:”


[audio: /images/uploads/blog/Clip_Bruce_Total_Package.mp3]


In this last segment Stefanko talks about his approach to photography and the importance of “seeing,” a technique both he and Bruce have employed over the course of their careers:


[audio: /images/uploads/blog/Clip_Frank_Technique.mp3]


You can see and purchase prints from Stefanko’s Morrison Hotel Gallery collection at the National Constitution Center.


Stefan Frank is the National Constitution Center’s Director of Digital Engagement and manager of Constitution Daily’s Twitter account @ConDailyBlog. Follow us!


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