Iconic Album Art: The "U2 Boy"

Peter Rowen is one of the best known child models in the history of music; you all probably know his face, no matter if you care for the music of Irish rock band U2 or not. Peter appears on the band's 1980 debut album "Boy" and he is featured multiple times on single and album releases until as late as 1998.

U2 frontman Bono and Peter's older brother Derek "Guggi" Rowen, later of The Virgin Prunes, were childhood friends, and then 5-years-old Peter was first photographed for the band's debut EP "Three" in 1979. One year later he was featured in a powerful black and white photograph on the band's debut album.

The captivating image of the innocent boy, directly looking at you with wide open eyes, is not obstructed by any text in the tradition of early 1970s British album art where soon to be iconic images were used to sell the album, even debut albums of then unknown bands. And while the photo was clearly meant to illustrate innocence and childhood, showing a half-naked child on the cover was considered "inappropriate" for the North American market, and "Boy" was released in the US and Canada with a blurry photo of the band.

For U2's third album "War" in 1983, Peter was photographed for an extensive session by Irish photographer Ian Finlay. Several photos of this session were used for the band's single releases, but certainly the best known picture is the album cover, especially as this was U2's breakthrough release on their path to becoming one of the world's leading acts.

Bono said that Peter was chosen again to represent the changes taking place in the world. The "War" cover no longer shows an innocent child, instead the boy is looking at us with wide open eyes of fear and his lip is bleeding. Resting against a rough brick wall, not protected by any clothes, the look on the 9-years-old face is even more powerful that a few years earlier on the "Boy" cover.

Single releases for "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "New Year's Day" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" all feature photos from the 1983 "War" session, while 1980's single "I Will Follow" shows another shot from the "Boy" session. 15 years later, for U2's greatest hits album "The Best Of 1980-1990", another picture from the "War" session was chose, this time Peter is wearing a soldier's helmet.

When he was 21, Peter Rowen became a photographer himself. Now, in his early 40s, he is an established commercial photographer in Dublin. When asked by the New York Post to give his professional view about his U2 album covers, he said:
Technically, they’re very simple pictures, but they’re powerful. What’s important about a picture is atmosphere and feeling. I gather the whole idea of “Boy” was the innocence of youth. “War” shows a much more disturbed-looking child, and I guess shows what the world can do to a child — a loss of innocence.


Rames El Desouki

The Traveller Publishing

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