In a year which has seen the loss of two musical greats in Prince and David Bowie, Bob Dylan, who turned 75 on May 24th, lives on as a remarkable testament to a uniquely American poetic vision. BJP sat down with photographer behind ‘Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day’ , Daniel Kramer, to ask about the artist as a young man.
Daniel Kramer remembers vividly where he first encountered Bob Dylan.
“He was doing a variety TV show hosted by Steve Allen. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – he was singing a song called ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ – a long piece about a wanton murder, and about the pitiful way the justice system handled it – “So here was this young guy with just his guitar, and he was saying these powerful things that you have to be brave to say. Don’t forget we’re talking about 1964, so things were more difficult politically.”
It was clear that Kramer, who developed his craft under the tutelage of Philipe Halsman and W. Eugene Smith, had the perfect subject in his sights. But it wouldn’t be easy: ’I didn’t realise it would take half a year to get permission, badgering his manager on a regular basis to get to photograph him.’
Eventually the badgering paid off, and Kramer spent the next two years following Dylan during 1964-65, shooting the performer in a variety of settings, from intimate recording sessions to giant concert halls.
This was a time of incredible musical creativity, and one that saw Dylan’s first reinvention – from folk minstrel to rock star bandleader.
Kramer’s images capture this unique time in Dylan’s artistic development, and the performance shots in particular display the world-weary diffidence that came to define much of his early songwriting.
Says Kramer ’As a photographer you approach every subject differently. I’m a counter puncher – we have to see who this person is and how they evolve […] What their actions are – it evolves into what the picture will be. With the portraits, you have to enable the person to emerge. It’s the same whoever you photograph.‘
It is this emergence that comes through in many of the images – Dylan at the Forest Hills soundcheck stands out. Here we have a musician whose previous Newport show had been the lightning rod for the growing hostility towards his new electric direction.
Little wonder, perhaps, that Dylan actually looks nervous here, despite the sunglasses. It’s a raw picture of a young artist who is still working out who they will be.
The portfolio includes nearly 200 images, documenting the Bringing It All Back Home recording sessions, touring, and portraits of Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, and other Dylan friends and collaborators.
And does the photographer himself have any favourites? Says Kramer: ’The picture that sums it up best is Bob in the mirror – he’s working towards a goal. Together we are making this picture. It’s the marriage of the photographer and the subject.’
Daniel Kramer: Bob Dylan A Year and A Day is released by Taschen, for more information visit www.taschen.com. An exhibition with select prints from the collection runs from 18th June to 30th July 2016 at Snap Galleries, London. Click here for more info.