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Bruce Cole, Canada’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographer


Name a Canadian music legend from the ’70s or ’80s and chances are Bruce Cole has photographed him/her.

Bruce Cole emerged as Canada’s unofficial rock ‘n’ roll photographer throughout the vibrant music eras of the 1970s and 1980s. With a keen eye and an innate talent for capturing the essence of music, he became synonymous with the electrifying, rapidly evolving Canadian music scene. His portfolio boasts illustrious names such as Gordon Lightfoot, for whom he served as a personal photographer, immortalizing intimate moments and iconic performances. Bruce’s lens also graced album covers for renowned acts like BTO, Sharon, Lois & Bram, and the Battered Wives, contributing to the visual legacy of Canadian music.

On stage, Bruce effectively captured the essence of legendary performers such as Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, Billy Joel, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, and Bob Dylan.

In 1974, Cole was asked to take these bio photos for Rush’s debut self-title album. Notice original drummer, the late John Howard Rutsey (July 23, 1952 – May 11, 2008).

His lens immortalized their dynamic moments, freezing the raw energy and emotion of their performances for posterity. With his distinct style and unparalleled passion for music photography, Bruce Cole rightfully earned the title of Canada’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographer, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s musical history.

Growing up Bruce

Starting out as a teenager, Bruce Cole’s journey into photography began with a passion ignited by his father’s rangefinder-style camera, equipped with a Zeiss Lens.

Toronto roots

Bruce recalls, “My dad always had a 35mm camera with him on trips and excursions. So I loved the art of shooting, composition and development. I ran the camera club at Wilson Heights Junior High School and at Bathurst Heights HS prior to going to Toronto Metropolitan University (previously known as Ryerson). Photography was always a passion in my youth. I was also ‘taught’ that you could be whatever you wanted to be, when you grew up.”

Witnessing the magic of a print developing in a darkroom tray captivated him, setting the stage for a lifelong pursuit of the craft. Despite the allure of typical teenage interests like sports and socializing, Bruce was drawn to photography’s enchanting process of transforming moments into tangible images.

Ryerson days

With dreams of becoming a commercial photographer and news journalist, Bruce embarked on a path fuelled by his love for both photography and music. Graduating from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute with a degree in Marketing and Advertising provided him with the business acumen necessary to pursue his passion professionally.

Bruce reminisces, “I started with Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and quickly realized that working nights and weekends was not my style. I always enjoyed music and attended many concerts. So I started to freelance for a new rock & roll magazine called Beetle Magazine and introduced myself to all the record companies, offering my services for all their requirements: Green Room shots at events, visits to all the radio stations to meet the DJ’s when they received supporting GOLD record awards, taking artists on tour to meet the appropriate DJ’s at their stations and live shooting at Clubs, and major venues.

Concerts at Massey Hall, Ontario Place, Maple Leaf Gardens, you name it, Bruce captured it

Negatives from one of Bruce Cole’s RUSH concert shoots a Maple Leaf Gardens in 1976.

“Many assignments were at Massey Hall, Ontario Place, Maple Leaf Gardens and many clubs in the GTA. Folk was very popular, so I was shooting at the Riverboat and Grumbles many times. Ultimately, while shooting as a press photographer for Beetle, I sold concert photos to The Toronto Star, Telegram and occasionally The Globe & Mail,” said Cole.

Ultimately, while shooting as a press photographer for Beetle, I sold concert photos to The Toronto Star, Telegram and occasionally The Globe & Mail.Bruce Cole

Bruce photographed Bob Dylan for the August 1972 cover of Beetle Magazine

As his profile in the music industry grew, he ventured into concert photography, capturing iconic moments in the careers of artists like Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bob Dylan.

“This introduced me to many artists and their managers. My studio was in the same building as Beetle Magazine and when performers came to be interviewed, I’d often take them to my studio for supporting photos. This included Max Webster,” said Cole.

Career Highlights

Gino Vanelli at Maple Leaf Gardens 1976
A tight shot of Gino Vanelli performing at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1976. photo by Bruce Cole

Gordon Lightfoot’s personal photographer

Bruce Cole served as Gordon Lightfoot’s personal photographer for several years. Pictured above: (L-R_ Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Stompin’ Tom. photo by Bruce Cole

Bruce’s career as a rock and roll photographer is filled with impressive highlights. He served as Gordon Lightfoot’s personal photographer for several years, collaborating closely with his manager, Al Mair. During the mid-1970s, Lightfoot wasn’t fond of having his picture taken. To ease his discomfort, Bruce took him and his guitar to Toronto’s picturesque Edwards Gardens. There, Lightfoot sang songs for two hours, gradually relaxing as Bruce captured the moment.

Another memory Bruce fondly recalls was the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972, when he found himself running across a field on the Toronto Islands with Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot. They dashed towards the safety of a police boat to avoid being mobbed by the crowd.

Posters and Album Covers

Paul Anka performing in 1975. photo by Bruce Cole

Bruce also created Rush’s first poster in his studio, and sold 100 prints of Paul Anka and delivered the order to Anka’s private plane.

His work on album covers includes a collage of recording studio shots on the back of BTO’s first U.S. album release, concert shots for Moxy, and an album and book cover for Sharon, Lois & Bram. Bruce also captured concert shots for the Stampeders and conducted a specific photo session for the Battered Wives to create an appropriate album cover, which has its own story.

Official photographer of the Juno Awards

Bruce Cole Junos book launch
Bruce Cole, right, and his wife (married since 1975), Jai ,at the launch party for his book, “40 Years of the Juno Awards,” featuring 80 of his images spanning four decades.

In addition to his work as a photographer, Bruce became an integral part of the Canadian music scene, covering prestigious events such as the Juno Awards. His dedication to his craft and meticulous attention to detail earned him recognition as a distinguished photographer, with his images gracing album covers and publications worldwide. Eventually Bruce reached a point in his career where he was the official photographer for the JUNO Awards for ten years.

Magazines & Books

Bruce Cole shot this cover photo of Anne Murray for the November 1974 issue.

Bruce Cole’s photos were frequently featured in RPM Magazine, Billboard Magazine, Canadian Computer Magazine, and Canadian Musician Magazine, where he contributed several spreads and covers. His clients included notable names such as Garfield, Dan Hill (who sang at his wedding), Guess Who, Good Bros., Down child Blues Band, Ian Thomas, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Lighthouse.

Cole’s contributions to the Canadian music scene are celebrated in the book the 40 Years of the Juno Awards, featuring 80 of his images spanning four decades. His legacy as a pioneering rock ‘n’ roll photographer continues to inspire and captivate audiences.

The Nikon & Hasselblad

The Hasselblad (pictured above) was one of Bruce Cole’s goto cameras back in the 70 and 80s. photo by @aniaxxvii

Throughout his career, Bruce mastered the art of live performance photography, navigating challenging shooting environments with precision and skill. Armed with his trusted Nikon and Hasselblad cameras, he captured electrifying moments on stage, preserving the energy and essence of live music for posterity.

Final Thoughts

As we reflect on Bruce Cole’s remarkable journey through Canada’s music landscape, his legacy emerges as a testament to the power of passion and perseverance. From his humble beginnings as a teenager fascinated by his father’s camera to his pivotal role as Canada’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographer.

Through his lens, Bruce captured not just images, but moments infused with the raw energy and emotion of live music. His ability to freeze thrilling performances and intimate interactions between artists and audiences cemented his status as an iconic figure in the world of music photography.

From his work with legendary artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan to his contributions to album covers and publications, Bruce’s portfolio is a visual tapestry woven with the threads of Canada’s rich musical heritage.

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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