“Hey, Frankie, let’s get together and make some photos and have some fun!” Those are the words that veteran photographer Frank Stefanko has heard for nearly 40 years whenever he gets a phone call out of the blue from Bruce Springsteen. Not surprisingly, it’s a request that Stefanko hasn’t been inclined to refuse. “You can’t turn him down, you know,” he tells Rolling Stone. “And who would want to? It’s always been a blast to do that.”
To fans of Springsteen, Stefanko’s work is iconic: His striking portraits of the singer-songwriter adorn the covers of 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and 1980’s The River, perfectly complementing those classic albums’ stark working-class tone. Now marking his near-four-decade association with the rocker, Stefanko is releasing a lavish limited-edition photo book titled Further Up the Road (published by Wall of Sound Editions), featuring many previously unseen images of Springsteen. The new collection not only contains session photos from the Darkness and Nebraska periods, circa 1978 to 1982, but also candid and live images of Springsteen taken during the past 13 years. Completing the collection are photos Stefanko took of Springsteen at the musician’s Colts Neck, New Jersey, farm this past April, specifically for this new book.
Stefanko was introduced to Springsteen through Patti Smith, a college friend of the photographer’s. He recalls when Springsteen first came over to his home in Haddonfield, New Jersey, before they started formally working together. “We came from blue collar working-class families,” Stefanko says of their similar backgrounds. “Each of our mothers were Italian, and our fathers were not Italian. We loved everything about Jersey; we loved the same music. So there was a great comfort level there. He could’ve been my brother.”
“His photos had a purity and street poetry to them,” Springsteen wrote of Stefanko’s photographic style in his 2016 memoir Born to Run. “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.” Of their working relationship during those photo sessions, Stefanko describes it as a collaboration. “It wasn’t me telling him exactly what to do, or him telling me exactly what to do. It was pretty much a 50-50 mix in that working arrangement.”
To mark the publication of Further Up the Road (whose print run is limited to 1,978 copies, which corresponds to the year Stefanko and Springsteen first worked together), Stefanko’s photographs from the book will be exhibited starting Thursday at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Los Angeles, followed by shows in New York and Italy. “It’s Bruce’s life,” Stefanko says of Further Up the Road, “as I’ve seen it by working with him. I’ve had the rare privilege of vicariously taking this journey with him for about a 40-year period. That to me is awesome. I hope the people who look at this book will take the journey with me, and appreciate the intimacy as how I see Bruce Springsteen.”
Exclusively to Rolling Stone, Stefanko describes the following images from Further Up the Road.