Danny Clinch says, unnecessarily, that he’s “an obsessed artist.” Almost without pause, he rattles off stories about shooting the Del Fuegos and ‘Til Tuesday as a Boston photography student in the mid-’80s. He traces a path that led from New Jersey, where as a teen he snapped pictures at Six Flags concerts to sell to his pals, to photography school, to a career as a bona fide shooter of the stars: Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Nas, Post Malone, and many more, but especially kindred spirit Bruce Springsteen.
“When Danny Clinch and I clicked as photographer/subject, it was because somewhere deep inside we had similar points of reference,” Springsteen writes in the foreword to Clinch’s “Still Moving.” “With each click of the shutter he was . . . searching for the same magic.”
We called Clinch, ostensibly to talk about “Bruce Springsteen: Portraits of an American Music Icon,” now on display at the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame at the Boch Center Wang Theatre. Curated by the Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music, the show features 40 images from seven photographers: Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Ron Pownall, Barry Schneier, Frank Stefanko, and Bruce’s sister, Pamela Springsteen.
When we spoke, Clinch wasn’t exactly sure which photos of his were in the exhibit, so we didn’t talk about specific shots. Instead we discussed his Boston days, his relationship with Bruce, shooting Bob Dylan, and more.
Q. What was your time like at school here?
A. It was great. I lived right on Peterborough Street. You could hear Fenway Park. I went to New England School of Photography in Kenmore Square around 1985, ‘86, ‘87. The Rat was right there and all the other clubs in the area.
The music scene at the time was awesome — O Positive, New Man, ‘Til Tuesday, Face to Face, the Del Fuegos.
Then I started working with Bruce in 1999. I sent him my book “Discovery Inn.” He invited me down to Fort Monmouth [New Jersey] where he’d just gotten the E Street Band back together. I started photographing for the tour book. We just really just hit it off. I started doing album covers for him, starting with “The Rising.”
Q. What’s that connection you two have?
A. Well, I’m from New Jersey. We’ll start there [laughs]. He grew up in the next town over from my father. Blue-collar family. My dad was almost like a character out of Bruce Springsteen songs. My dad was a greaser, he wore jeans and a white T-shirt with the cigarettes rolled up. The stories my dad told me growing up sounded like Bruce Springsteen songs.
We hit it off. He’s a lover of photography, Bruce is, always interested in the cameras I had, what I was shooting and why. We talked about photography books. And I don’t know, he just kept asking me back.
The photographers in this show, I feel like we have a kinship of being a part of his world. People have done different eras of his career. I don’t see any jealousy of anybody. I feel a real kinship to those photographers.
Q. What interests you about Bruce as a subject?
A. He’s a great collaborator. He’s creative. He understands how he looks best. He’s always got ideas, but he’s open to other people’s ideas. He’ll say, “I’ve got a record coming out. This is the title. Here’s some of the song titles. Why don’t you come over and listen?” I’ve gone to his studio or jumped in the car with him.
When I did the “Wrecking Ball” cover, we sat in the parking lot. Every song, he’d tell me a story about it, give me a little background, then he’d crank it up.
Q. That’s awesome.
A. The other thing: He’s a hard-working guy. I work really hard. He acknowledges I work hard. For example, we were doing a shoot for Variety. I went to his place; we shot for a couple hours. And I said, “Do you feel like going out to Sandy Hook [beach]?” [It’s] about a 40-minute drive from his house. He was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We went out there and that shot became the cover.
Q. You mentioned your dad. Did you grow up with just your dad?
A. And my mom. My mom was always taking photographs, which is one of the reasons why I started. I got a camera when I was really young from a yard sale. My dad was like, “I didn’t go to school, I didn’t get a proper education. Whatever you want to do, do it, and we’ll find a way to pay for it.”
I went to Ocean County College [a two-year community college] here in New Jersey. But, a great story: For Bruce’s 60th birthday, in Asbury Park, a buddy of mine, Tim Donnelly, and I decided to do a show of Springsteen photos. Bruce said, “Patti and I, we’ll ride over, we’ll want to see the show.” Sure enough, they show up in Patti’s car, a 1951 Hudson Hornet convertible. Beautiful old Hudson.
My dad, being a greaser, was like, “Wow, what a car. I had a 1950 Hudson.” Patti [Scialfa, Springsteen’s wife] was like, “You should drive the car!” And my dad was like, “Oh my God, no, I don’t want to drive your mint-condition convertible.” Bruce takes the keys and puts them in my dad’s hands: “Max, you can’t hurt this car. Let’s go for a ride.” They start it up, I go to grab my camera, and they drive away. They came back with big smiles on their faces. I hopped in the back. I got the greatest photo of the two of them.
Q. I love that. And what happened after Ocean County College?
A. I went up to Boston to see New England School of Photography because in New York City I was hugely intimidated. [Boston’s school] had a great little dark room; there were veterans, young people, old people. The equipment wasn’t brand new. It had a vibe. I was like: “I can fit in here.” It really worked out for me.
I ended up doing a workshop with Annie Leibovitz. I worked my way up to being one of her assistants. That opened a lot of doors for me.
Q. Why music photography?
A. When I look at Annie, Irving Penn, and Richard Avedon, like people who are like my beacons — they photographed artists, poets, authors, celebrities, musicians. But I just realized how important music is to people. It just became something I was obsessed with. It’s incredible when you go to a show — I was just at Springsteen — I looked at these fans, and they were euphoric. It’s like church.
Q. I have to ask: What’s it like working with Dylan?
A. Incredible. In a nutshell: I was shooting John Mellencamp and his publicist said, “I like your style. I work with Bob Dylan. I’m going to throw your name in next time he does a shoot.” I was like, “I’ll believe that when I see it.” On March 16, 1999, I get a call from Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager. I couldn’t believe it. And it happened — Dylan actually showed up. I did three shoots with him. He was always really cool to me. And then he just flittered off to someone else.
Q. Oh, I love that photo. And you’ve also said you’re a fan of the document. What do you mean by that?
A. Photojournalism — Annie Leibovitz’s early work spoke to me, Jim Marshall photographed Johnny Cash flipping the bird, Janis Joplin with the Southern Comfort. Those photos, they’re real. The document speaks to me. My goal is to capture a moment with this person where you feel like you’ve gotten something special. That’s my goal.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: PORTRAITS OF AN AMERICAN MUSIC ICON
At the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame, Boch Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St. Theater tour tickets: $25 adults, $17 children. www.bochcenter.org/tours