Steve Hengstler: the photographer who covered the rise of Husker Du

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Photographer Steve Hengstler documented Husker Du
Steve Hengstler first met Bob Mould in the fall of 1978, when the two lived across the hall from one another in Bigelow Hall at Macalester College in St. Paul. Hengstler would go on to photograph many of the press images and early concert photos of Husker Du. (Annie Hengstler Rheineck)

In the fall of 1978, Steve Hengstler was a 17-year-old from Fridley, Minn., attending Macalester College in St. Paul. Living in Macalester's Bigelow Hall, Hengstler befriended a young man from northern New York who lived across the hall and was constantly practicing guitar — Bob Mould.

Mould, together with Grant Hart and Greg Norton, would go on to form Hüsker Dü, one of the most iconic bands in American punk music. Along the way, Hengstler — a business/economics major with minors in photojournalism and German — documented in photos the rise of a band who would become one of the most heralded trios in rock.

On Friday, Nov. 10, Numero Group releases its box set, Savage Young Dü, which covers the rise of Hüsker Dü in words, photos and of course, music. Hengstler's photos — some publicity shots taken in St. Paul, along with many, many photos from live shows — are on the cover of the box set and peppered throughout its companion book. "It's primitive rock photography at its very best," says The Current's Mary Lucia. "You can smell these photos from here."

Annie Hengstler Rheineck met Steve Hengstler at age 16 and the two eventually married. Sadly, Steve Hengstler died in 2004 at age 43, following a second bout with cancer. "He always had a great interest in photography," Rheineck says. "He just had an eye for it."

Husker Du photographed on the High Bridge in St. Paul
Hüsker Dü photographed on the High Bridge in St. Paul; left to right: Greg Norton, Grant Hart, Bob Mould. Steve Hengstler

As an undergrad, Hengstler worked for Macalester College's Mac Weekly newspaper. Meanwhile, Mould, Hart and Norton were gaining more traction as Hüsker Dü. "Steve thought what a great idea to take pictures of this Hüsker Dü band as an up-and-coming punk-rock band," Rheineck explains. "So he would follow them with his friends to wherever their concerts were at — everything from the Seventh Street Entry to the Longhorn, to concerts right at Macalester's student union."

Adam Luksetich is an editor at Chicago-based Numero Group. "All the earliest photos of Hüsker Dü that we were able to find when we were researching were all credited to Steve Hengstler," Luksetich says. "Annie had all the slides and negatives and even some prints of photos in her possession. She gave the photos to Grant Hart … I spent a couple days scanning all of them and going through everything. If I had to guess, there were 300 to 400 different photos … there are so many great photos in there."

The Numero Group wasn't the first place to notice Hengstler's photos. A photo taken by Steve Hengstler graces the cover of Hüsker Dü: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, Andrew Earles' 2010 book published by Voyageur Press. Similarly, Hengstler's photos are used in Gorman Bechard's 2013 film documentary, Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart (screening Friday, Nov. 10, as part of Sound Unseen), as well as in Bob Mould's 2013 autobiography, See A Little Light, and on the cover of Mould's 2014 album, Beauty & Ruin. Indeed, one of the photos Hengstler took of Hüsker Dü on St. Paul's High Bridge is the visual identity for The Current's Do You Remember? podcast.

Bob Mould's Beauty and Ruin
The cover of Bob Mould's 2014 album, Beauty and Ruin, incorporates a photo by Steve Hengstler, taken on St. Paul's High Bridge. Merge Records

Probably the richest vein of Hengstler's photos, at least to date, is found in the Savage Young Dü companion book from Numero Group. "I spent about a year of my life working on this thing, and I never get sick of flipping through it," Luksetich says. "And it's all film photography, which we don't see much these days. It's nice to go back in time a bit and see that."

For Luksetich, some of Hengstler's standout images include a smiling Grant Hart sitting at his drum kit, the name "Hart" clearly written on the underside of his cymbal; and Bob Mould jumping straight up in the air while performing onstage. "You don't really see many photos of that era of the band when they're just jumping around, kind of going crazy," Luksetich says. "Steve really caught the energy of the band at such an early stage."

An early press photo of Husker Du, taken by Steve Hengstler in St. Paul.
An early press photo of Hüsker Dü, taken by Steve Hengstler in St. Paul. Steve Hengstler / Courtesy Annie Rheineck

Rheineck says there has been talk about a selection of Hengstler's photos going to the Minnesota Historical Society; closer to home, the photos mean even more. "His work and his talent lives on," Rheineck says, "and it's a great legacy for our children, Jill and Tony."

Related stories

"Do You Remember?" is a podcast that explores Husker Du's formative years and legacy through rare exclusive interviews with the band, as well as those who were around in the beginning. We also dive into recordings from Numero Group's new remastered box set of the band's early releases, demos and live recordings.



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Resources


Savage Young Dü (Numero Group)

Savage Young Dü (Amazon)

1 Photos

  • Annie Hengstler Rheineck shows one her favorite Steve Hengstler photos
    One of Annie Hengstler Rheineck's favorite photos by Steve Hengstler is one that appears in Andrew Earles' 2010 book, "Husker Du: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock," from Voyageur Press. A stylized version of the image is used on the cover of the book. (Luke Taylor | MPR)

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