Visual Arts Review: Photo Exhibits of Springsteen and the Stones Rock Boston

By Ed Symkus

The Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame and the Panopticon Gallery host very different shows featuring rock icons.

Bruce Springsteen: Portraits of an American Music Icon at The Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame in the Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston, through October 30. Admission: Adults, $25; kids, $17.

All Down the Line: The Rolling Stones in Boston at the Panopticon Gallery in Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, through November 15. No admission charge. An artist reception is scheduled for Sept. 21, from 6-8 p.m.

Bruce Springsteen at home in Rumson, NJ (1987). Photo: Pamela Springsteen

There’s a lot of rock ’n’ roll to be seen in Boston right now. On walls, in galleries. Two photo shows are running concurrently, across town from one another. At the Boch Center Wang Theatre’s Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF), you can catch Bruce Springsteen: Portraits of an American Icon in the lower lobby. And a Green Line ride away, on the first floor of Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, the Panopticon Gallery is hosting All Down the Line: The Rolling Stones in Boston.

Though the subjects of both shows are iconic musical artists, the exhibits boast some major differences. First of all, the Springsteen show presents mostly black-and-white photos, while the Stones photos are primarily in color. The distinctions don’t stop there.

Bruce Springsteen features the work of seven photographers in two adjoining rooms, with the contents of each space differing in style and substance.

The smaller one is composed of six performance shots by two local photographers, Barry Schneier and Ron Pownall, along with blowups of proof sheets on the walls, a display of Bruce artifacts, and an 18-minute projection video of Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London.

Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons (1984) Photo: Ron Pownall

That part of the exhibit is what you might call onstage Bruce. The larger room, with 40 photos by Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Frank Stefanko, and Bruce’s sister Pamela Springsteen, is offstage Bruce. These are behind-the-scenes images of him relaxing, hanging out with friends, and posing for sessions that would evolve into album covers.

Rather than trying to capture the flavor of the show in a conventional review, I decided to limit myself to picking a favorite by each photographer.

In the onstage room, those would be Schneier’s well-known 1974 shot of him at a piano in the Harvard Square Theatre, and Pownall’s Bruce & the Big Man, with Springsteen and Clarence Clemons lost in the music together at the Centrum in 1984.

Standouts in the larger room include Meola’s 1975 shot of a motorcycle, railroad tracks, and Bruce looking tough in a sleeveless jacket; Stefanko’s 1978 Corvette Winter, with him sitting/leaning on the titular vehicle on a snowy suburban street; Gallucci’s 1972 lineup of the E Street Band grinning for the camera; Clinch’s 2006 rare peek at Bruce in repose, sitting back on a couch, guitar in hands; and Pamela’s intimate 1987 study of her big brother, sitting at a table, pen to notebook, guitar in his lap, cars keys resting in front of him, light pouring through the window.

Mick Jagger, left, and Keith Richards rip it up at Gillette Stadium (2002). Photo courtesy of © Ted Gartland

During a quick chat with Deana McCloud, who curates shows for FARHOF, and is co-curator and installation person on this show, she told me that this is a Bob Santelli-Bruce Springsteen Archives exhibit (referring to the executive director of the Archives). Some of these photos have been shown before, but this is a new version of the show. “I asked some of the photographers for proof sheets,” she added. “So now people can see the outtakes that didn’t become these framed photos on display.”

Looking around at all of the offstage photos in the room, she said, “They capture this amazing artist as a person.”

Keith Richards (1988). Photo courtesy of © Ted Gartland

The primary difference between the 46 photos in the FARHOF show and the 27 of the Stones at the Panopticon Gallery is that the pictures lining the two corridors there are all from live concert settings, all in and near Boston, over five decades — 1975-2019 — all shot by Ted Gartland.

The exhibit, though not strictly in chronological order, starts with photos from Ron Wood’s first visit to Boston as a Rolling Stone, and ends with some from Charlie Watts’s last visit to Boston as a member of the band.

My favorites: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at a 2002 Gillette Stadium concert, making direct wide-eyed contact with each other; Jagger, short-haired, squinting, with an open-mouthed smile, and grasping a Kramer guitar during the Steel Wheels tour; and — not technically a Stones show — Richards, leaning forward, wearing an intense grimace, from his X-Pensive Winos stop at the Orpheum in 1988.

About that shot, Gartland, a former Globe and Herald photographer, said “with all we’ve heard, all these years, that Keith doesn’t even know what day it is, and all that jazz, he was in the moment!”

A fan, Gartland says, since “I heard those two guitars on ‘It’s All Over Now’ coming out of my transistor when I was 15,” Gartland managed to get himself in the photo pit whenever the Stones hit town. As is customary at most rock shows, he could take pictures during the first three songs, and was then escorted out. In that brief time, he would usually get close to a hundred shots.

Regarding the inspiration for the current show: “When I found out they’d be playing here in 2019, I was thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got them in the ’70s and the ’80s and the’90s and the aughts. Now I’d like to get them in the teens.’ I had been sitting on the idea of a show, and I knew that I had some good strong images, but I didn’t know how to put it together. Then when I shot the show in 2019, I realized I’ve got this continuity. Maybe I could use that as a hook to try to sell the idea.”

Ed Symkus is a Boston native and Emerson College graduate. Among his accomplishments: He went to Woodstock, interviewed Edward Gorey, Ray Bradbury, Ted Nugent, and Kathryn Bigelow, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, and the Isle of Capri with his wife Lisa.

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