Boy behind U2 album covers shares story behind photo

Kwala Mandel
The Difference

In 1980, U2 released a debut album, "Boy," with a memorable album cover photo featuring a six-year-old boy staring directly at the camera. Three years later, the same figure reappeared on the cover of "War." The child (who has since been featured on many of U2's albums) is Peter Rowan. Rowan, now a 37-year-old photographer with a daughter of his own, lives in Dublin, Ireland, and still stays in touch with Bono and The Edge.

Several years ago, the band gave him a copy of a photo they took for an album cover and wrote messages to him on the back. "Bono wrote, 'Stay a child. I am enjoying it.' It was good advice," says Rowan, who landed on the album covers because he grew up in Ireland near Bono.

"Bono lived across the road and was friends with my brother," says Rowan, whose brother actually gave Bono (real name Paul David Hewson) the nickname that stayed with him for the rest of his life. "I don't know why they thought of me."

Rowan debuted on the cover of U2's first EP album, "Three," when he was 5 years old, and he was only 8 when "War" was photographed.

The band was there for the "War" shoot, and Rowan says he has two memories of the day. The first was disliking the soup that was served by the photographer's wife, but being too shy to say something.

"And the other memory is that Bono was driving us back from Dunnleary, Ireland [where the photo was taken]. He was talking to someone in the backseat and someone shouted to watch out for a car. Two memories from the day: I didn't like the soup, and I was nearly in a crash."

Rowan was then featured on the band's "best of" album, and he appeared in one of the U2 videos. As an adult, he's had a complete role reversal. Two years ago, he photographed the band's Dublin concert, and has since gone on to photograph other performances. Rowan saw U2 two months ago for a Montreal show.

"It is funny that I'm a photographer now," Rowan said, and the arc came full circle when U2 used one of the photos he took for a T-shirt and a poster. He also connected unexpectedly with one of the photographers of the album covers while he was on assignment. "A guy started talking to me about my camera and said he used to be a photographer and his most famous picture was 'War.' I said 'that was me!' He's a judge now."

These days, Rowan says he rarely gets recognized. "But when people find out, sometimes they say my eyes are still the same."

Click here to see some of the photos Rowan has taken over the years.