BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
"Simply the best live performer in the history of rock and roll," is the way Rothenberg enthusiastically describes the subject of her new book, "Bruce Springsteen In Focus-1980-2012."
While that view is undoubtedly shared by millions of Springsteen fans worldwide, unlike most, Rothenberg has taken literally thousands of photos of "The Boss" over the past 33 years, 276 of which appear in her "coffee table" book.
The acclaimed photographer, who first met Springsteen in 1987 at Asbury Park's famed Stone Pony, has been taking concert photos for Manhattan's Daily News since 1999, in addition to branching out into sports, nature and corporate photography as well as portraits for such music icons as Keith Richards, David Bowie and Sting.
EXAMINER: What prompted your original interest in photography?
ROTHENBERG: My father was an amateur photographer who could have easily gone pro had he pursued it. At first I wanted to be a filmmaker, but was told that "for every one person who makes it, 10,000 don't." So, I decided to go into still photography. Of course I was told the same thing, but became so enthralled with the still image, I didn't care what people said.
EXAMINER: Were you a Springsteen fan before you started photographing him?
ROTHENBERG: Absolutely not.. The first time I heard him back in 1978 during a summer school class, l hated him. My musical taste back then didn't stray past Barry Manilow. However, just one week later, I became hooked.
EXAMINER: So, what memories do you have of your first Springsteen concert?
ROTHENBERG: "Amazing" is the only way I can put it. I went with my friend John, and we danced, sang, laughed, cried and just lost our voices. On the way back to campus, we ploughed into a snow bank. I remember someone in the car asking, "Are we in heaven?" I said, "I don't care, I just shot Bruce!"
EXAMINER: For your book, did you have to consult with Springsteen or any of his people for approval on any or all of the shots?
ROTHENBERG: No, I didn't. The cover photo was chosen because last year The New York Times called it one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. It's just such a warm and friendly photo of Bruce that I think really draws the viewer in.
EXAMINER: Choosing photos is such a subjective process. How do you decide which ones are the most interesting, journalistically, that would please an editor while, at the same time, not offending the subject, especially with someone like Springsteen who exudes so much facial intensity.
ROTHENBERG: I agree, it's all subjective, but I will never release an image of someone that I consider unflattering or if they specifically told me they disliked it. With Bruce or any other performer, I like to show the energy of the live performance. I'm especially drawn to photos where the subject is smiling, because it shows they're having the best time doing what they do. I have heard that Bruce hates photos of himself smiling, and I would love to know if that is true. It seems that he is smiling most of the time while performing. His smile if just so infectious, you just have to smile back.
EXAMINER: When you first started shooting Springsteen, he was 31, and next year he'll turn 65. Obviously, he still gives 100 percent in his marathon concerts. As a photographer, what changes are most apparent?
ROTHENBERG: Only that physically he looks a little different. Energy-wise, he is just the same as when I first saw him. As I said, "Just amazing." I shoot concerts all the time and, live, there is no one like him. In my opinion, the only other performer who comes close in terms of pure energy is Pink, but she doesn't perform for over three hours like Bruce, and she is half his age.
EXAMINER: With the publication of your book, are you concerned with being unfairly typecast as "The Jersey Girl Who Shoots Bruce Springsteen," when you have done so many other types of photography?
ROTHENBERG: Not at all. Anyone who Googles my website can see I'm pretty diverse. It's funny, because when I moved away from the Shore in 1999, I really had every intention of staying away from shooting concerts and Bruce Springsteen, because that is what I was known for when I lived there. However, after shooting my first concert for The Daily News, I really embraced it. Now it's hard to turn away from doing it.
EXAMINER: What advice would you have for any young aspiring rock photographer?
ROTHENBERG: Learn how to use your camera on manual setting, and shoot as much as you can. Don't just try for the big arena shows. There's a lot of great music happening at local clubs. That's a great place to learn new things and perfect your craft.
Rothenberg will be at Manhattan's Rock Paper Photo Pop-Up Gallery, Gallery 151, at 132 W. 18th Street, on Wednesday, January 15, 6-8 PM, for a book signing, and also on Saturday, January 18, from noon till 2 PM, at Where Music Lives, 708 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park, New Jersey, for a slide presentation and book signing. Both events are free.