A conversation with Eric Meola about his shoot for Bruce Springsteen's
seminal Born to Run album.
This is a book about 2 1/2 hours in your life. Looking at the pictures, it seems it was a very busy 2 1/2 hours. How much did you "plan" the shoot, and how much just happened? And why did you shoot in black-and-white?
I was very much influenced by Dan Kramer's images of Bob Dylan; and by Bruce's on-stage moves. I kept reading over and over about how there was such a disparity between the stage shows and the albums. ... I couldn't do anything about that. But what I could do was try to put on film -- still pictures -- what I personally felt in my gut about his performances. That's what I wanted to capture -- the interplay between him and Clarence, the sense of a brooding, street-wise poet who held an audience in the palm of his hands, and kept them spellbound with his music.
So I planned to shoot in black-and-white, because I thought it would help to simplify the images and to me, that's what rock 'n' roll was always about -- the contrast, the shadows, black leather, white light.
Most of these photographs have never been seen before? Why not?
I've always held them back. Part of the reason was that within a few months after the shoot, Bruce was in a lawsuit with his first manager. And then, there was the "hype" -- the covers of Time and Newsweek. And I was just glad to get the cover of Born to Run, not to mention that I had taken quite a diversion from my own career to follow Bruce, and that I was starting to go off on long assignments. ... Around the time of Born to Run I did my first huge advertising campaign, photographing coffee plantations around the world.
And I always had a sense of history about these images; not because I happened to photograph Bruce at that moment in time, but that all of it -- the lyrics, the album cover, the other photographs -- captured a moment of change, a moment of innocence suspended in time.
The story of this photo shoot almost seems like a fairly tale: "Photographer assigns himself to photograph the cover of one of the most important rock 'n' roll album ever." Do you have any advice for young photographers who will read this and think, "OK. But, just how did Eric REALLY get to take these pictures?"
I'll answer that metaphorically, because the mechanics of how it happened are documented in the book.
Jon Landau, who now manages Bruce, wrote a review after seeing Bruce for the first time. And he's always quoted as saying "I saw rock 'n' roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." But his piece starts out with him saying, "On a night when I needed to feel young...." And that was it for all of us. Bruce talks to that thought in "Thunder Road": "...so you're scared and you're thinkin' we ain't that young anymore...'"
There's this point where you're about to grow up and you don't want to -- you fight it with everything you've got. I wanted to photograph this guy because I believed in his music and what he had to say. The truth is, I vacillated between thinking I was nuts and knowing I was lucky to be in on a moment in time I would never forget.