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September 23, 2009 8:26 pm
In recent years, Danny Clinch has received the kind of attention usually reserved for the rock stars he photographs. He has drunk champagne with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, played impromptu harmonica sets with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and lent his car to Bruce Springsteen. Most recently, he was the subject of a documentary filmed at Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. His latest project is the campaign for a limited edition “Absolut Vodka Rock Edition”, in which his photographs of rock band Wolfmother are franked with his own autograph.
It might seem strange, then, that Be True , his latest exhibition of photographs of Bruce Springsteen, opened not in a glamorous Chelsea gallery, but on a boardwalk in New Jersey that has passed its heyday. But then, for Asbury residents, Springsteen is no ordinary celebrity, and Clinch, a fellow New Jersey boy, shares the sentiment. Inevitably, the conversation at the opening night was less focused on Clinch’s artistic compositions than the question of whether “The Boss” might turn up after supper with his mother-in-law.
Since the 1973 release of Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, Springsteen’s first album, the seaside town has been caught in a strange trap – both struggling to rise from the urban poverty described in his lyrics and proud of its gloomy claim to fame. Even today, the 1871 boardwalk’s most innocuous features have retained their identity as monuments to Springsteen’s youth, as illustrated by the producer of the exhibition, Tim Donnelly, who breaks into song as he passes a fortune teller’s stand: “Well the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do/This boardwalk life for me is through...”
After a three-year redevelopment effort, the “whitewashed windows and vacant stores” of Main Street have been replaced with smart trattorias and artisan galleries. On the boardwalk, families sit at brand-new bars and restaurants. Last Friday at least, as a smart crowd gathered outside the exhibition, it was easy to believe Donnelly’s claim that Asbury was the latest weekend destination for New Yorkers.
Today, Springsteen’s presence here is more pervasive than ever; he has personally invested in the town’s redevelopment and has continued to play at the Convention Hall before every national tour.
Clinch’s photographs do not challenge the image of Springsteen as Asbury’s saviour. Through his lens, the smallest details are given the attention usually reserved for divine relics; one large print features only Springsteen’s hand hovering in the air. In another, taken in 2006, he sits next to wife Patti Scialfa surrounded by the Seeger Sessions Band as if awaiting the Last Supper.
The pictures, taken in New Jersey between 1999 and 2009, range from classic rehearsal shots (Springsteen laughing jovially with the E-Street Band) to dramatic performances (bent backwards over a microphone at the Giants Stadium). In one, he lies in an open-top car (Clinch’s),
his Bob Dylan-style pointy boots dangling over the window frame. In another, he is the lone rider on a motorbike, a dark speck on a lonely road. These are rock’n’roll images of the most classic kind, shot in the chiaroscuro shades of film noir, timeless to the point of being static.
A small crowd gathered around the show’s final photograph. Vincent Menoli, a local musician, explained its appeal as depicting “Bruce in his homestay” – although a quick examination revealed not a relaxed domestic scene, but a formal portrait, taken on the set of the music video for “The Wrestler”. In the image, Springsteen, wearing a leather jacket and with rings covering his fingers, presides over a bar, the Stars and Stripes providing a backdrop. Menoli’s instinct was not wrong; it is Springsteen’s achievement, carefully manipulated by Clinch, that his “homestay” has for years been a shady area between a downtrodden boardwalk and a studio set, reality and myth.
As the boardwalk grew dark, Clinch joined the band once again, accompanying New Jersey starlet Nicole Atkins on his harmonica. The party continued until New Yorkers left to catch the last train home. Residents of Asbury lingered, just in case The Boss should make an appearance – although when he didn’t, he was quickly forgiven.
‘Be True’ ends on September 27
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