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"In the pits of poverty, I saw a strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit I didn't see when I came home," Bono told Rolling Stone at the time of the album's release. "I started thinking, 'They may have a physical desert, but we've got other kinds of deserts.' That's what attracted me to the desert as a symbol."




09-10-2004) Joshua Tree's Photo Session - Rolling Stone*
Joshua Tree's Photo Session

Ed. note -- The latest issue of Rolling Stone ("The Photographs") celebrates the "50th Anniversary of Rock" with a section dedicated to iconic rock and roll photographs and the stories behind them. U2's Joshua Tree photo session with Anton Corbijn is featured.



U2 looked bigger than they ever were intended," Anton Corbijn has said of the photos he took for the cover of the band's fifth album, The Joshua Tree. "I never realized the pictures would work out the way they did, where I think they look stronger, really, than any other band in the world."

The road to The Joshua Tree started with a trip to Ethiopia. After he played the Live Aid concert in 1985, U2 singer Bono and his wife, Ali, worked at an orphanage in the impoverished country, where they witnessed firsthand the effects of the famine sweeping the continent.

"In the pits of poverty, I saw a strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit I didn't see when I came home," Bono told Rolling Stone at the time of the album's release. "I started thinking, 'They may have a physical desert, but we've got other kinds of deserts.' That's what attracted me to the desert as a symbol."

As U2 wrapped up recording a year later, Corbijn attended some of the studio sessions. "The working titles were The Desert Songs and The Two Americas," he says. He began mapping locations in eastern California and Nevada to illustrate the album. He drew a picture of a Joshua tree, which he had first seen while photographing avant-blues howler Captain Beefheart years earlier in the desert, and showed it to Bono. The gnarled tree had been named by nineteenth-century Mormon settlers because its upturned branches reminded them of biblical leader Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. As they drove through the California desert in December 1986, Corbijn and the band found clusters of Joshua trees before stumbling upon a lone one, not far from where the ashes of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons were scattered in 1973.

Bono saw this hardy survivor as symbolic of the album's mood, although he thought the title The Joshua Tree wasn't very rock & roll, and he joked at the time that it "sounds like it would sell about three copies."

His estimate was a bit off: The Joshua Tree sold 12 million copies and became one of the decade's biggest albums.
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