Eric Meola’s ‘Born to Run’ Shares Unseen Bruce Springsteen Photographs

Tulla Booth Gallery in Sag Harbor presents photographer Eric Meola’s Born to Run exhibit, a collection of unseen photographs from Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 landmark album. Meola’s unseen photos will be on display until Monday, November 21. We reached out to the Sagaponack resident and he was more than willing to give us some background on his life and work.

Meola originally graduated from Syracuse University in 1968 with a degree in English literature but made the transition to photography after college. “I always wanted to be a photographer,” Meola said. “My dad was a doctor and a patient of his was an engineer whose hobby was photography. I learned how to photograph and make prints for him. As soon as I saw a print come up in the developer, I was hooked.” 

Eric Meola

Eric Meola. Photo: Barry Gordon/Tulla Booth Gallery

His first job was with the esteemed photographer Pete Turner. “I knew Pete’s work well. It was the golden age of travel photography, as well as advertising, so as soon as I graduated I went to New York and was lucky enough to get a job as his studio manager,” Meola recalled. “Pete was a demon for hard work, and very disciplined. It was a bit like being in the Army, and I thrived on it.”

Meola was aware of Springsteen’s music early on, so he started driving down to New Jersey and catching a lot of his early shows. They kept running into each other and built up a friendship. Meola also learned that Springsteen was working on the Born to run album. “I had been on my own for a few years, shooting some editorial work, but I had a sense I needed to pursue whatever it was that excited me personally,” he said of his career at the time. “It was obvious to me that [Springsteen] was on the threshold of greatness, so I kept going to shows and then his manager approached me to shoot the album cover.” 

Meola still remembers when the photographs were taken. It was Friday morning on June 20, 1975. He says that the session only lasted a few hours. Springsteen already had the idea of isolating saxophonist Clearance Clemons and himself, that way you didn’t know where they were. Springsteen even made reference to the album cover looking like a greeting card.

In the time since, Meola’s work has allowed him to travel the globe. For the last several years, he has been going out to the heartland—America’s Great Plains—to photograph tornados. He’s been to Antarctica, Burma, China, New Guinea and some of the most remote places on the planet. But, he says that his heart is in the “backstreets” (for any Springsteen fans reading this article) of Nebraska, the Dakotas, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana and Kansas—the remote places off the interstates that almost no one ever travels. 

Bruce Springsteen and Clearance Clemons

“Blowin’ On Sax.”. Photo: Eric Meola/Tulla Booth Gallery

Meola’s wife Joanna, who is also an accomplished photographer, grew up on Long Island. They started making trips out here in the late ’70s and it just grew on him. “We bought a house in Sagaponack in 1986,” he said. “I love the art scene out here—we’re all part of an incredibly vibrant community of artists and writers. As my wife says, ‘this is where we come to be kids forever—this is where we express ourselves and make art that comes within us.’” 

In regards to the Born to Run exhibit at Tulla, Meola stated, “It’s a look back in time for me—a moment when someone was about to explode creatively and become the poet of his generation. I knew it and I was lucky to be a small part of history, and to have the privilege to capture it.”

Meola has published several books, including India: In Words and Images, Born to Run: The Unseen Images and Last Places on Earth. His work can be seen at ericmeola.photography.

Tulla Booth Gallery, 66 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-3100 or visit tullaboothgallery.com.

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