To millions of U2 fans, Peter Rowen is the child whose mournful face stares out from the covers of “Boy” and “War.” Now, 30 years since he modeled for the iconic images, he still attracts attention.
Peter grew up in Dublin, where his older brother Guggi befriended Bono, when he was still known as Paul Hewson.
“Bono [came] over to our house quite a bit,” Rowen says. “My eldest brother, Clive, says Bono used to eat us out of jam sandwiches! I remember Bono and [his wife] Ali coming, much later, for Sunday dinner.”
U2 first had Rowen photographed in 1979 for the EP “Three.” He later appeared on the European version of “Boy” and the breakthrough third album, 1983’s “War.”
For the ‘War’ shoot, I went to photographer Ian Finlay’s house in Dun Laoghaire [a seaside suburb of Dublin], where his wife made soup, which I didn’t like. When we returned to town, Bono was driving and came close to running into the back of another car!
“One of my older brothers who lived in London at the time said he thought it was cool to see posters of me everywhere. I’d get phone calls from girls in America. How they got my family’s number, I don’t know.”
When he was 21, Rowen became a photographer. In 2001, a newspaper asked him to cover a U2 concert at Slane Castle.
“I was in the pit with all the press photographers. The band wouldn’t have known I was there. At one point, Bono was lying on the stage right in front of me, which was kinda funny. Not long later, I bumped into The Edge at a nightclub and told him about that assignment. He asked to see some of the pictures and, after doing so, sent me a note saying they were really good.
“The [band is] well aware I was the child in their photos, but it’s [never] cropped up in conversation. The connection I had with them was when I was a child. I know them to say hi and they are always nice to me. They’re older than me, so I would never have hung around with them.
“Some of my brothers and friends have got more mileage out of it than I ever have. The biggest buzz I get out of it is having my 10-year-old daughter thinking it’s cool.
“The funny thing is, I never used it for pulling the birds. I would have felt an idiot trying to use it as a chat-up line. It’s a bit cringey, you know: ‘I was on the U2 album covers.’ ‘Were you? So what!’
“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.”