Daniel Kramer: Bob Dylan, In Pictures

Nenad Georgievski By

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Photography may not bring back what has long gone, but for many, it can provide a passage to explore important happenings or moments from people's personal histories. A simple photograph can encapsulate deep-rooted emotions and memories of people, events and times that have long gone. Photographer Daniel Kramer's photographs of singer and songwriter Bob Dylan taken over a period of one year in the mid-'60s immortalize the unique energy and the times of this greatest of poets. Kramer's inimitable lens capture Dylan in various settings—various concerts, backstage, at home, in the studio and silently witnessing probably Dylan's most creative periods of his artistic career. It's the period during which he wrote some of his career highlights—his photographs adorn two album covers from this period, Bring it On Home Highway 61 Revisited and plenty of his photographs can be found at the supersized 18 CD box set Bootlegs Vol. 12 Cutting Edge.

Kramer's photographs were first published in 1967, but renowned publisher Taschen has published a superb new edition of his collection that also features previously never before published photographs. Even after all these years, Kramer is renowned for the extraordinary access he has had and his ability to capture many perfect moments. His photographs were also exhibited at the Taschen gallery in Los Angeles as part of the '60s series that also encompassed photographs from different fields such as sports and politics.

All About Jazz: Your current exhibition in LA, where your photographs of Bob Dylan are exhibited, is part of Taschen's '60s series of photographic exhibitions. You met Dylan more than 50 years ago, in 1964. What was happening in pop culture, politics and journalism at that time?

Daniel Kramer: It was a very interesting time. The '60s was a time of opening up of new communications, of new attitudes. There was a certain sense of looseness. It was a very creative time. A lot of artists were doing interesting things in music, photography -everything. So, the '60s were very interesting times and very also very difficult times. There was a lot of unrest in my country at the time. We lost the president who he was shot. We lost a religious leader who was also shot. It was a tragic time and it was a time of growth.

AAJ: What was it about Bob Dylan at the time when you saw him perform on TV that made you want to approach him and his management to have his photographs taken?

DK: The lyrics I heard on TV. He was singing "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol" and it was such a poetic clarity that I thought that this was very special, especially for a young person. Also, it was very dangerous, because he was speaking about how the law created a misjustice. So, this interested me because of the social issue, because of his language and because of his performance. I decided to try to find him to make his picture.

AAJ: What was your first impression of Dylan when you met him in person for the first time?

DK: He was friendly, but he wasn't too open. He was being a little protective of himself which I understand. I'm the same way. He was friendly and he offered me the opportunity to make pictures, but he didn't like to pose. He said he preferred if I just took pictures of what he was doing, which was fine with me, but at one point I got him to sit for a portrait. And that's what I really wanted. But what happened was, instead of having one hour to photograph him it became five hours. We had a good time taking pictures. I was doing what he liked and he was doing what I liked. We stopped and went to lunch in Woodstock. He played chess and I took pictures. He took my camera and took pictures of me. We had a really nice afternoon. That was my first session with him.

AAJ: The photographs were taken at various settings which indicates that you really had tremendous access to Dylan. Why did he trust you?

DK: Why did he trust me? Everyone trusts me. I'm a trustworthy person. I give that feeling. That's my reputation. I protect my subjects. I do not show all the pictures. I keep a confidence. I'm a reasonable person. All of these things. Also, I'm friendly and I'm funny.

AAJ: At the time when you were taking all those photographs were you aware that you were witnessing something historical and significant?

DK: It's easy to say that now because it's a hindsight. I was aware of the fact that he wrote and sang "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol." That's all I knew about him. I never heard him perform anything else up to that time. I did not know who he was and I knew nothing about his background nor his history. I knew nothing about the other songs when I first met him, but I did know he wrote "Blowing in the Wind," cause someone told me that before I went to see him. What happened was when he saw my pictures he invited me to come with him to a concert. So, I went two weeks after that to Philadelphia and I photographed the concert. That was the first time I heard his music. And I heard him play other songs and I was fascinated. I thought he was terrific. Really terrific. I liked what he was doing and I liked his lyrics. So, I kept shooting.

Then, one thing led to another thing and he was going to do this concert. So, I went there. Then, he was going to make an album. So, I went to photograph him making the album. Then I heard "Maggie's Farm" and then I heard electric music. It was fascinating and it was terrific. I loved it. So, I stayed. I was having a good time. Then he asked me to make his album cover and that was important for both of us.

AAJ: Please talk about the meaning of the photograph that adorns the Bring it All Back Home cover.

DK: That was my first album cover and he was very pleased with it. What I tried to do in my cover for Bring it All Back Home was to show that Bob Dylan was not a folk singer. He was a prince of music. He was a king of music. Dylan was an artist musician. On that picture, he doesn't have his guitar and he is sitting on the couch. He has a pussy cat and he has a beautiful woman behind him. He is a prince and this is what I wanted to show.

AAJ: So this is the symbolic meaning behind this photograph.

DK: Yes, the meaning here is this special person of music.

AAJ: How did the music from this period and onward make an impression on you? The music that you witnessed him make during those studio sessions?

DK: I still like it and I still listen to it. Everybody does. He changed the music. He made new music and a lot of people were influenced by him. He was 23 years old, but he was quite brilliant when it came to music. And now we see what came to poetry and when it came to writing. He is very talented and it came out of him in every way. This made the work enjoyable and I photographed him for a year. The final session was at Forest Hills. Actually, the final session was later. I photographed him some after the Forest Hills, but I didn't include it. This was the main point and the main point was this one year. It's interesting is that soon he is doing a concert at Forest Hills again. It's 51 years later, but my pictures are still being used. My pictures are still the ones that a lot of people know Bob Dylan by.

AAJ: The photographs that were taken during this period of one year were published in a book back in 1967. How did this book come about?

DK: The first book had 140 photographs. This one has 208 photographs. Already, there is more information and a lot of pictures that I held back from the first book. We can see new scenes of Johnny Cash, we see new scenes of the TV station -a lot of new different facets of it. Also, the pictures are bigger. They are better reproduced and the writing is, I feel, more insightful that it explains more how I felt. I put myself more into the book. At the time I didn't. Now I feel I have a right to. I think I have earned the right of 50 years of my own work to make a photographic statement and to make a writing statement. I tried to show a little more of how I was thinking and how photographers work, the problems we have and we face. This relationship of the photographer and a subject. It's not too technical and I didn't go too deeply into it because it is not a book for one audience. It's a book for people who are interested in Bob Dylan and the music.

AAJ: It seems that the interest for this period of his career never wanes as it is constantly revisited through books and new releases. Last year, there was a big box set from the Bootleg series covering this period— The Cutting Edge and it features a lot of your photographs.

DK: Yes, about 40 of my pictures were used. When I made those pictures they began using them right away to show who he was, and they are still using some of my pictures even 50 years later to show who Bob Dylan was. It went around the world quickly and the people who were being introduced to his music were also introduced to my images of him. So, it came together.

AAJ: You were once quoted saying that "a photographer is a historian with a camera." Can you elaborate on that?

DK: It speaks for itself because I don't want to detract from writers and people who use the word because we all know this is very important. It's one of the basics of our civilization is that we have books and writing. But, imagine the world today if we did not have a camera or if we stopped at painting. Imagine if we did not have a way to make an actual reproduction and fix it so it could stay for 2-300 hundred years. We wouldn't know a lot of things. In my book, at the end, there is a picture of me photographing Bob in the mirror and facing that page I wrote that the first mirror was the water in which human beings looked into and saw who they were in the reflection. Without that, they wouldn't know who they were because they could only look out at other animals and other beings. Who were they in comparison with what else was there in the world? Suddenly, when he looked into the water, he saw his difference. He saw his individuality. Now we have the camera and that is the new water. The camera tells us who we are. You know who you are because you saw pictures of yourself. You know what is going on in the world because you see it on TV.

So, instantaneously, you know what happened in my country yesterday and I know what happened in the Middle East yesterday because of pictures. Because of that, we are both elevated in our thinking in our ability to understand the world. So, imagine the world if we didn't have a camera. We would really be different people. Not that we are so good right now, but I'm hoping that we are going be better someday. The point is, with the camera, we learn just like we learn from the written word. We learn who we are, and the more we learn who we are, the better we will be. We don't know enough yet who we are. A lot of people don't know who they are. They think they know. They don't know yet. I'm hoping that the world will turn out well.

AAJ: Are there any photographs that didn't make the cut? Are there any photographs that still remain in the vaults?

DK: Of course, there are other pictures. I photographed him for a whole year, so I have a lot of pictures. But, this the essence. This is the main story. I'm not saying that there aren't other interesting pictures as there are. But, it's like when you make a movie, a lot of what you shoot does not end up in the movie. That is because you have to make the movie have its own life.

In the same way, this book has its own life and you have to edit. Even writers don't publish everything they write. If they did, they would bore their readers. But you edit, and you make it more pointed or sharper. Or clearer. Then you have other material you can use. So, you use it another time.

AAJ: Finally, what do you hope people will carry on from Dylan's legacy as portrayed through your pictures?

DK: I still feel the way I felt when I made the pictures. I'm hoping that my pictures will add some clarity to people's understanding of who he is. I tried to express and show that he is quite brilliant at what he does. His work has influenced so many, many people and many musicians. So, I'm hoping that my book is an insight, a little visit that most people cannot have. Most people cannot have a visit with Mr. Dylan. People who enjoy his music and enjoy his writing can have a little more of the feeling of who he was. And this is who he was when he was a young man.

He was 23 years old when these photographs were taken. Now, it's 50 years later. How much do we all change anyone of us? We change. But the basic core, the center of our being usually doesn't change. It's usually who we are. We have our pattern. We are that person through our whole life. It changes, it grows, or it diminishes. It's shape and color changes, but we are still mostly the same person. And we learn this from Shakespeare and his characters. I feel that even though Dylan is very young in my book, this is basically who he is. This is the person. I think he is a terrific guy, I think he is funny and I think he is very talented. I had a very good time photographing him and meeting him and knowing him. I'm very glad I spent the time making that project.

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