Springsteen Photographer Nicki Germaine Catches Up with Covey
Her new book, Springsteen: Liberty Hall, highlights the Boss early in his career
Nicki Germaine is the creative force behind the book Springsteen: Liberty Hall, a compilation of photos taken at Liberty Hall in Houston in 1974, when Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were on the verge of stardom. Germaine captured what happened onstage and backstage and created a book of never-before-seen, full-frame photos. I met Germaine in January at her book signing during a day-long symposium at Monmouth University in New Jersey that celebrated the 50th anniversary of Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park. I caught up with her again a couple of weeks later as she was preparing to accompany longtime significant other Garry Tallent (E Street Band bass player and founding member) on Springsteen’s first tour in seven years.
Here’s what she had to say about life, work, and what it means to come into your own, both personally and professionally, later in life.
CHRISTINE KRAHLING: The book is dedicated to your father. You said that while both of your parents taught you a lot, your father had the biggest influence on you growing up, and that he contributed to your sense of confidence. Tell us a little about him and your relationship.
NICKI GERMAINE: Almost every memory I have has something [to] do with my father. He was a US Air Force Officer and man of many talents. He had a quiet confidence about anything he did, and he thought I could do anything. He always took photographs wherever he went, and I was always interested in drawing, painting, and photography because my dad did it. When I was 11, he bought me my first camera — a Brownie. I took it to 4-H camp with me that year.
My dad died when I was a freshman at Southern Methodist University. I went into a pretty deep depression [afterward]. I wound up transferring to the University of Texas, but dropped out for three semesters. And then I went back. I was determined to get my degree because I thought it was something that would make my father proud.
CK: You mentioned that you had a teaching job in 1970, which was around the time that female teachers were just then being allowed to wear pants to work, yet they couldn’t teach while pregnant.
NG: Right, I was around 25 years old at the time, and pregnant with my daughter, Jenny. And after finding out I was pregnant, I knew the school wasn’t going to let me come back. So I signed up for a summer internship at the studio of a brilliant Houston photographer — the late Ron Scott — and after completing it, I was hired as an assistant (and they got me an extra-large darkroom smock!). With Ron, I was treated with respect as a young woman and worked up until my due date. I became a very good businesswoman as well as a photographer. I had no experience, and I learned a lot in the darkroom. My first commission was $2500; it was a windfall for me. It solidified my confidence, which was shattered after my father’s death.
CK: You became a single mom when your daughter was a toddler. That had to have been tough.
NG: Well, after having my daughter, I realized I couldn’t travel with a baby and be a commercial photographer! I will tell you, the hardest thing for me was the end of the day; I’d be so exhausted. I never saw myself as a victim, though; that mentality can hurt you. A couple of women came up to me at the book signing and said when I talked about being a single mother it was “very inspiring, very brave.” And I think “brave,” for me, is not a word I would use. I just did what I did. It just felt like the right thing to do. I never gave it a lot of thought.
CK: You became a real estate agent at 41 while living in California. What was that like?
NG: At first I thought, “What the heck have I gotten myself into??” It was so hard. But I loved putting my jeans and boots on every day and driving around some of the most beautiful country property. Within three years, I was one of the top two selling agents in an office of 60 agents. I was working 80 hours a week while my daughter was in high school. I did it for 30 years. I became a well-known agent with a reputation of being a straight shooter. But I didn’t care about that; I cared about doing a good job, and while I was really good at it, it wasn’t what I loved.
CK: You said that originally there were no plans for the pictures that you took during the Liberty Hall shows. Walk us through how you went from no plan to publishing the book, AND with Springsteen’s blessing no less?
NG: On New Year’s Day 2011, I got a call from an unknown number that I assumed was work-related, so I didn’t pick up. Turns out the call was from Garry Tallent looking for pictures from the Liberty Hall shows for an article for someone he knew. “You need to do something with these,” he said. At the time, my daughter was ill, I was too tired from working, and I needed a break. Jump to 2019 and Garry sent the pictures to Bruce, who was very excited about them. We had a lovely conversation, and I told him that I wouldn’t do a book without his blessing. He gave the okay and he also agreed to write the preface after seeing the mockup of the book. I knew I didn’t want to turn the project over to a traditional publisher and lose control of it — and I also wanted to make it affordable for the fans — so I self-published. I feel really proud of myself.
CK: What does it feel like to be at this stage of life compared to when you were younger?
NG: I’m finally coming around to the person I really am. The photographer I was in my 20s was nowhere near as confident as the person I am now. When I saw those photographs after so many years, I saw them differently. I really saw how good they were. I was too self-critical, too insecure [back then]. Also, when you get to be 75 years old, you don’t care what other people think!
CK: Tell us a little-known fact about you.
NG: I once drove a Formula Ford race car. I took a week-long driving course in my late 30s. I recommend it to anyone; it will make you a better driver!
CK: In your note to Garry in the Acknowledgments section of your book, you say that you are the “luckiest woman in the world” to have him by your side. Tell us a bit more about what love feels like at this stage of life.
NG: Garry coming back into my life was an unbelievable blessing. Timing is everything. My plan was to leave California to move to New Orleans…and then Garry called again in 2018. We got to know each other, and I moved to [be near him in] Nashville. COVID gave us a chance to get to know each other without any distractions; we have a wonderful relationship of mutual respect. Our gift to each other is our shared experiences. He is one of the sweetest people in the world.
CK: What advice do you have for women who want to try new things later in life but may feel it’s too late?
NG: Be present for opportunities — recognize them. Connect the dots. You have to know what you’re doing but who you know is how you get there. If you’re going to do anything, try to do it to the best of your ability. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve.
Christine A. Krahling is a developmental editor and Covey Club’s Editorial Consultant and Books Editor. When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, she can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen with her granddaughter, Mira.