The Road to Black and Gold
An Interview with Legendary Sports Photographer Steve Babineau
Steve Babineau is a man with stories to tell. His photographs have captured countless iconic moments in sports history. Best known as the Boston Bruins’ photographer for the past four decades, his images, full of energy and emotion, chronicle the history of the team both on and off the ice. When I sat down to chat with Babineau, his passion for his work was evident as he recounted stories of humble beginnings as a kid with a camera and some memorable career moments. (Editor’s note: This interview originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of mvm. )
How did you get started with photography?
I attended Rindge Tech in Cambridge. I would sneak out of school to see Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Bruins practice at Harvard. I would bring an ‘instamatic’ camera and take photos because I was a fan.
What was the first big break in your photography career?
I noticed [The] Hockey News didn’t have pictures. In 1973, I called them and told them I had photos. They asked me to send them some since they didn’t have any. Two weeks later, [The] Hockey News published my photos of [Word Hockey Association players] Tim Sheehy and Bobby Sheehan.
I got paid $5 … and [got a] a career.
How did you come to be the Bruins’ photographer?
In 1974, I was granted Bruins credentials as a [The] Hockey News photographer.
I was able to shoot Bobby Orr’s last two years of playing. Two years later I was given the position of Bruins color photographer.
Why did you decide to make the Merrimack Valley the home of your photography business [after being based in Medford for so many years]?
In 2009, Image-Tec owner Tom Grassi invited me to move my office from Medford to his studio in Methuen. I had a relationship with the Manchester Monarchs and the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League, so Methuen was convenient.
How did you get involved photographing UMass Lowell sports?
Last year I was asked to shoot hockey at UMass Lowell. I really like college hockey; it’s kids playing hard, and the energy is intense. I thought shooting college sports would allow me to be more creative, and that really energized me.
What is your relationship with youth sports in the Merrimack Valley?
We photograph youth sports teams at Image-Tec. We use a variety of backdrops, like the original Boston Garden locker room, which I acquired before the old Garden was demolished. Parents appreciate having their kids photographed by a pro that shoots the pros, and getting to preview photos before leaving the studio.
What other teams or events do you photograph?
I photograph the Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, Manchester Monarchs and UMass Lowell athletics. My son Brian and I are also the TD Garden’s photographers. Brian has been shooting with me for 21 years, since he was 15 years old.
What have been some iconic moments in history that you have photographed?
There are nine retired players’ numbers hanging in the Garden. I have photographed six of their careers. Photographing and getting to know Milt Schmidt has been incredible. … He is the true Bruin … the greatest hockey player of all time. Photographing the Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time since 1918 was an incredible moment, too.
What was an emotional moment during your career?
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the 2010-2011 season. When [team] captain Zdeno Chara got the trophy, he hoisted it over his head. That’s when I got the cover shot for my book. When I went down to the ice, there was a sea of people. It seemed surreal, like Moses parting the Red Sea. I could see Brian at the other end. I heard him say, “Here comes my dad.” I think I took four steps and bam, they gave me the cup, and I started crying.
Tell us about the National Hockey League purchasing your archives.
In 2007, they purchased my collection of approximately 350,000 NHL hockey photos spanning 35 years. When they came to get my archives, we loaded 41 boxes into a van. That was an emotional day.
Tell us about your book.
The first edition of “Black and Gold,” written by Rob Simpson, is filled with 35 years of my Bruins’ photos, stats and stories. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, we updated the book and rereleased it. It’s not just about the history of the franchise, but also my history with the Bruins.
What is your relationship with musician Neil Young?
I have photographed approximately 75 shows over 32 years. From 1989 to 1991, Neil signed my limited-edition prints, and we sold them, raising over $100,000 for The Bridge School in Hillsborough, Calif., for children with speech and physical impairments.
Image-Tec is a full service, commercial photography studio in Methuen,