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Born to Run - Photographer, Eric Meola

Originally Posted: November 29, 2006

J. Z. Holden

A new collaboration between Alison Restaurant and East End Books has given birth to an evening known as "The Authors Round Table Dinner Series," which takes place on Sunday evenings throughout the winter months, at Alison Restaurant, on School St., in Bridgehampton.

On the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, Alison planned a menu of mussel chowder, beet salad or Caesar salad as appetizer, local blackfish, pan roasted chicken or grilled hangar steak as an entrée, and warm raspberry sabayon, warm apple crisp or chocolate soufflé cake for dessert. The exquisite meal was to accompany a presentation by artist and internationally known photographer, Eric Meola, as he spoke about his most recent book, "Born to Run."

During a telephone interview from his studio in Bridgehampton this past weekend, Mr. Meola talked about photography, photographing "The Boss," his next project, and Dino, his beloved dachshund who passed away the day after the photographer's return from England.

JZH: Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?

EM: I grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., its pretty cold up there and there isn't much to do. My Dad was a doctor and one of his patient's was an engineer whose hobby was photography. I think he suggested I hang out with him and learn about photography to get me out of his hair. I was 12 at the time, and the first time I saw a print come up, I knew I wanted to be a photographer.

In 1969 I interviewed with photographer Pete Turner in New York City. His work was colorful and focused. He had a studio in Carnegie Hall and I became his assistant for 1 1/2 years. It was there that I was introduced to John Durmak at Time magazine, who later offered me some covers. But I really got my start when a Swedish coffee company hired me to photograph coffee plantations all over the world. I was sent to Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, and Kenya.

JZH: How did you end up photographing Bruce Springsteen?

EM: I got my first big break in 1973. I lived around the corner from Max's Kansas City and saw that Bruce was playing there. It was an amazing show and I started following him. I took pictures from the audience. Then he appeared at The Bottom Line in 1974. I saw him again and decided I wanted to photograph him.

He was scheduled to do a concert in Central Park. Before the concert, I spotted him under the awning of the Plaza Hotel. I managed to get up the nerve to talk to him. He invited me to his next concert in New Jersey, and I ended up going to see him in Asbury Park. We ended up doing a two-hour shoot before "Born to Run" was released.

He was very down to earth, unassuming. At the time, they were in the studio 18-hours a day, recording and writing lyrics. The band was changing. He had to find a new drummer and piano player. That was all going on in the background. So the shoot was re-scheduled a number of times, until I finally said we had to make a commitment and do it.

They came in at 10:00 a.m. They were exhausted. The looked as if they'd been up all night. And as far as I know, they were. I don't know whether this makes sense but I really wanted to photograph the cover of "Born to Run." I really wasn't that excited about photographing Bruce Springsteen. His stage shows were so much more powerful than his albums.

Bruce Springsteen came with Clarence. The band was in transition. It was a statement about race as well. I wanted to capture on film what they did in concert. It is very hard to re-create that kind of energy. But to their credit, they did it. It was fantastic. I had talked to Bruce about shooting in black and white. I thought color would be a distraction. I wanted a white background and I wanted it abstract. They showed up with black and white accessories. I was aware of Richard Avedon's work using white backgrounds.

Why this book is just coming out now...well, Bruce did two tours, and then was involved in a major lawsuit, and wasn't allowed to perform for a while. He disappeared for a couple of years. And I had my own career going.

I put the images in the safe. Last year, "Born to Run" was reissued. And he had a hectic schedule, so it came out this year.

I think the reason this all happened and Bruce let me take these pictures was that I was a kid who was passionate about taking these pictures. It was more important to him to have a collaborator who was passionate about the work, than a hired professional for whom it was merely a job. That's why he chose me. It's great to see all these pictures finally make it into a book.

JZH: How do you feel about the way that photography has changed over the years?

EM: We all rebelled against photography going digital. That meant we had to go back to school and get more equipment and go through a transition. It's like being a kid, and you hear about the Industrial Revolution. It's a distant thing and you don't think you'll have to go through it yourself. It was on the horizon. As recently as 1998, people were still shooting film.

Computers and cameras got better and the Internet - photos are now delivered over the Internet. People were happy to receive files. Now you can Wi-Fi directly from your camera. It was inevitable. We're a culture that is driven by instant gratification.

As for the results, they were close to film. 75-85% of the time, I'm happier with the digital image. Film is 3D. Digital is a sensor and light responds differently and you get a different result. I just saw an exhibition of wildlife photography in London. Out of 200 shots, one or two were film. Everything looks very clear, very sharp, the images look fantastic. Technology is here. You've got to accept it.

JZH: What's next?

EM: I'm working on a book about India. I fell in love with the colors and the ceremonies. I travel and shoot alone, without an assistant. I photograph the people and cultures that are disappearing. I'll be leaving in January. And as you might imagine, there's a lot to do before I leave. I'll be gone for four months.

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