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The Boss Revealed
by: mello58 15 november 07
Bruce Springsteen: The Boss Revealed, Proud Galleries, London WC2
‘The Boss’, as all Springsteen aficionados know well, was a nickname coined long ago by fellow members of the E-Street band for their buddy and paymaster. It is also a term which Springsteen has repeatedly remarked, he would have preferred had not become public and that he is faintly embarrassed by. Few fans these days refer to him by this tag; for them he is simply ‘Bruce’ (or more commonly ‘Broooce’ as the incantation goes up at his live shows). Nonetheless choosing ‘The Boss Revealed’ as the title of this collection of rarely seen photographs on exhibition at Proud galleries, could not be more apt.
The title is both ambiguous and ironic. For a subject that has such enormous public recognition it is a considerable challenge for any photographer to find an angle or a twist that reveals something new. This collection succeeds in doing just that. Together these pictures, covering more than three decades, reveal something of the persona that people feel they know – Springsteen the gloriously bombastic showman and high-octane performer; but others also reveal glimpses of a far more private, reflective, and altogether darker character. Bruce is renowned for his generosity and accessibility as a performer; his early sets were legendary for lasting 4 or 5 hours, and even now he pours everything into a show, as E-Street band member Steve Van Zandt has remarked – he does every show like it was his last. When not performing he is famously private, introspective and self-contained. Both of these characters are captured in all their diversity in this collection of photographs. Springsteen recognises these ‘multiple selves’ and professes to use them consciously in his performances, but these pictures go beyond such self-aware or mannered manipulation and give rare insights to unguarded moments that would probably surprise Springsteen himself.
The exhibition documents Springsteen’s extraordinary live shows, notably in the work of Rene Van Diemen and Debra Rothenberg. Bruce struts his self-parodying stuff, pumping his guitar, striking his signature poses (the mid-air leaps, down on his knees at the front of the stage, sprawled atop the lid of the grand piano, or guitar held aloft in one hand like a mighty sword of salute), and the images exude the sheer pleasure, frenetic energy and entertainment that is the experience of being at a Springsteen gig. Some pictures have long ago attained iconic status and are immediately recognisable; notably Terry O’Neill’s images of Bruce sashaying down Sunset Strip, or Lynn Goldsmith’s picture of Bruce surrounded by stacks of discarded chrome hubcaps (the references to the sacred American automobile feature as much in the photos as they do in Bruce’s songbook). But other pictures are less familiar images that surprise and challenge.
Jim Marchese’s contributions are out-standing; it is one of these that adorns the monochrome poster for the exhibition, depicting a youthful pensive Springsteen sitting in an empty arena during a pre-show sound check in Brussels. Marchese has a distinctive style, often using a large aperture to give a tight focus on the subject dissolving into a softer and more impressionistic background. Another such intimate photo shows Springsteen in Paris, bathed in soft late afternoon sunlight as if through stained glass – another empty arena; another rehearsal - the faithful Fender-Esquire slung from his shoulders, his face almost entirely hidden as he pauses to rub his tired eyes with both hands in a gesture that is disarmingly child-like and touching. The picture is almost luminous in quality and benefits from being reproduced in full colour.
Not only does this stunning collection bring together a wealth of material from artists who have established their reputations through working closely with Springsteen over the years and following him on tour, but it is the combination of styles capturing the passing years that is so compelling. Through more than 60 images we witness the maturing of a character – from the skinny and gauche young man of the 1970s, through the pumped up and muscled creation of the glory days, to the mature, rugged but still strikingly lean and youthful 58 year old who now meets the gaze of the lens with less arrogance and far more self-knowing. And in the passing of the years we see our own reflections; Bruce’s fans are notorious for sticking with him over the years. Many will look at the photos and remember that they were there, and part of their experience is captured in these highly personal images. Springsteen knows the importance of this relationship, as he has observed, the band will last “as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself, and your audience looks up at you and see themselves – and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones.”
As Bruce and the E-Street band prepare to tour Europe with the new album Magic this exhibition will serve as a great curtain raiser – as much a tribute to the art and personality of Springsteen as to that of the photographers.
‘Bruce Springsteen: The Boss Revealed’ features the work of: Terry O’Neill, Lynn Goldsmith, Debra Rothenberg, Steve Rapport, Barry Plummer, Adrian Boot and Jim Marchese. 26th October – 2nd December, Proud Galleries, Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6BP. Free Admission. Further information: www.proud.co.uk Tel 020 7839 4942
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