Barry Schneier: The Man Who Shot The Future
I first met photographer Barry Schneier in 2014, when we both found ourselves lost on the campus of Monmouth University. We were both presenting at the Fifty Years Of Making This Guitar Talk symposium. I was there to talk about Trouble In The Heartland and Barry was there to talk about his many times shooting Bruce Springsteen over the years.
One of those times resulted in one of the most iconic shot of Bruce: In black and white, sitting behind the piano, getting ready to play For You.
And Barry got the shot on the night rock critic Jon Landau said ““I saw rock and roll’s future..and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
It’s not everyday you get to experience a watershed moment. But Barry was there that night and got THE shot.
I’m honored to say I’m an owner of a print of that wonderful image, thanks to Barry.
Now, on the eve of publication of book (it’ll be out March 2019) filled with early Springsteen photos, put together by Barry and the publisher of Backstreets, Chris Phillips, I had the chance to sit down with Barry and do a little interview. You can find out much more about the book here, so I didn’t want the interview to bog down in those details.
Barry has photographed Bruce, and many other rock icons, through many years now. He has a keen eye not only for when Bruce in on stage, but for many other scenes in the world around him. I love his eye – what he sees.
Here’s my interview with Massachusetts native and photographer Barry Schneier.
JSP Q: Canon, Nikon or Other?
JSP Q: Camera eye? (i.e which eye do you use to look through the viewfinder with) BS: Right eye.
JSP Q: Do you come from a photographic background? If yes, how has that influenced you. If no, how did you come about to being a photographer?
BS: I found an old 35 mm camera that was my grandfathers when I was in 6th grade. Starting taking photos then and loved it. All black and white. I remember the excitement of dropping the film off at the drug store. Couldn’t wait until the prints came back. Still have some of them.
In college I was a film-making major. Took a minor in fine arts with a concentration in photography. If I was going to do films I wanted to train my eye and photography was a much more accessible medium than film for that. I was introduced to the greats like Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and many of the great “street style” photographers of that era.
That’s what cemented my love for the craft, seeing how photography was as powerful a medium for storytelling as any.
JSP Q: What do you consider is your photographic path (i.e. what do you like to shoot and why?)
BS: When I was studying photography we were told to just go out and shoot. My teacher actually gave us assignments that put us in uncomfortable situations ( like going to the courthouse and photographing people waiting to go into court in the lobby). I found that I loved photographing everything and everyone around me and became quite comfortable with just doing that.
On my web site I title my body of work ENCOUNTERS. I see myself as someone with a camera, capturing things I witness, whether it is a static object that presents itself in a manner that captures my eye or people I meet or observe.
JSP Q: How do feel you were able to develop your own brand of photographic storytelling?
BS: I’m very comfortable around people and have no problem interjecting myself into a situation if I see something or someone interesting. (of course asking for permission first). I think people are comfortable with me. A long time ago I found that I believed there’s a great portrait in everyone. I tell that to people when I photograph them. When I am photographing people, or musicians in action, I know in my mind what I am looking for and I wait for that moment when I see that.
Thankfully, having come from the analog world of photography I am not schooled in shooting hundreds of photos like one does with digital work. I tend to be patient and wait for the best shots. I also find I enjoy the moment more like that as I am in the moment as well, not just photographing it.
JSP Q: One of your most well-known photographs is Bruce Springsteen at Harvard Square back in 1974. Your upcoming book Bruce Springsteen: Rock ‘n Roll Future is coming out soon. The story behind that classic photo will be told there. But aside from that image, tell me about some of your other what are some of your other favorite images?
BS: Two images come to mind. One is another from the Harvard Square Theatre show (where the famous photo was shot). Bruce is performing Born to Run, actually the first time it was ever performed live. The band is facing the audience and Bruce is facing in the other direction, looking to the wings where I was standing. It’s blurry and grainy. Not “perfect” by photography definitions, but that’s how it was. Light was low on the stage and we had to “push” our film, and our limits, to get an image then. But in this photo I see the energy and the vibrancy of the night.
And I love the way its composed, Clarence in a blur in the background, and Bruce looking so engaged, leading the charge, looking the band’s leader he truly was.
The other one I call “Trey, Denver”. I was in Denver in 2011. I was working on a live video production for a company that was being acquired by another and making the announcement that morning. The new owners were painting a picture of prosperity and joy while the audience knew half of them were about to lose their jobs. I found the whole thing troubling. When the event was over I had to leave and go for a drive to clear my head. As I was driving I came across Trey who was at an intersection. I had to stop and take his photo. There was more truth in his sign than in the company meeting I had just left.
JPS Q: Is this your first book or have you done others? How do you like the full book process – from creative to printing? What do you like best about it? Least?
BS: This is the first book I have done though my work has been published in other books before. The process was exciting as I felt I had a great team working to support me. I had been writing for about four years and had the good fortune of friends and family to review my work and give me feedback.
Chris Phillips (editor of Backstreets) was incredible in helping to shape the direction of the book and offer great ideas to expand the narrative. What I really loved was the writing. The photos were there, and reviewing them and finding ones I hadn’t paid attention to before was fun. But this was my first real attempt at writing a narrative and trying to create a story line from personal experiences.
My mission was not to just talk about the photos and the night, but to put it all in the context of the era and the incredible passion people have for music and the music of Bruce Springsteen.
I had an incredible designer, Jay Inman. I’ve worked with Jay on numerous projects for almost three decades. We always wanted to do something like this together. When I came to him with the project I had some design ideas. He looked at them and said “Nah. This is what we need to do” He nailed it.
I love it when someone who is working with you takes your ideas at inception and comes back with something better than you could have imagined. That’s what Jay does. And I had the incredible support of Digital Silver Imaging, the photo lab who has been doing all my print work for some years now. They helped me from the get go, giving me ideas for the Kickstarter campaign, and working with me to ensure all the scans were produced to achieve the best quality for the book.
We went through a number of tests with different mixes to achieve the best reproduction of especially the black and white work as we went with the traditional four color offset process for the book. They had people in house that knew the publishing world as well so that was a great asset. Producing imagery for book publishing was new to me and I had to rely on others to treat the work well. And they did it.
It was an amazing process to see it all come together. When Chris and I first got our sample books to review we were blown away. The work exceeded our expectations and we hope others feel the same.
I can’t say there was anything I really didn’t like. The managing of the Kickstarter process was very time consuming though I was warned it would be. Keeping track of 1001 backers, making sure their addresses are correct, etc. It’s a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. But it’s all worth it.
JPS Q: What’s next for Barry Schneier?
BS: Going to be busy with book signings and events in the coming months, which I really enjoy.
My next project will be a collection of my work from 70’s. There is certainly going to be my music shots, but there’s the people and the places I “encountered” during that era. When people look at my work from that era there is a lot of interest in who these people were and what was going on. It will be a visual record of an era going through great change as a generation was moving from a period of self-discovery to cementing a lifestyle.
And as people have asked about the stories behind the photos I’ll be writing those as well!
Thanks so much to Barry to taking the time to give these insights. This weekend, Barry and Chris will signing books at Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery in Asbury Park on Saturday, February 9 and at the Princeton Library in Princeton, NJ, on Sunday, February 10.
I’m hoping to get to one of those signings and say hello to Barry again!
And, hopefully, I won’t get lost!
You can follow Barry and his work in a number of places:
Web site www.barryschneierphotography.com
Have any specific questions for Barry? Drop ’em in the comments and I’ll try to get them answered!
© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2018