Art & Photography / Culture Talks

A Year and a Day in the Company of Bob Dylan

What is it like to spend 365 days documenting the life of the world's most influential musician? As his new book lands in stores, photographer Daniel Kramer tells the stories behind the images

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© Daniel Kramer, courtesy of TASCHEN

In 1964, American photographer Daniel Kramer met a little-known 23-year-old singer and songwriter from Minnesota. His name was Bob Dylan. "I certainly never imagined the extent to which we would work together that year," Kramer says, "let alone the impact the year of work would have for both of us." From 1964 to 1965, Kramer would photograph Dylan extensively – and it was during that time that the musician would first synthesise acoustic folk and blues to rock pop, producing what is widely regarded as his most original and influential body of work. The songs he made in that period, from It Ain’t Me Babe to Mr Tambourine Man, would change the course of pop music forever, and go on to inspire countless musicians for decades to come, from John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Neil Young to Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Patti Smith.

Kramer would document some of the defining moments in contemporary music history: he was present, for example, at Dylan’s Forest Hills Stadium concert in Queens, New York, attended by 14,000 people – his first performance after his divisive Newport Folk Festival appearance earlier that year, when he played an electric set for the first time and was booed off stage. "It would culminate in what he had been doing with his music for the past half year," Kramer reflects. "We were about to get the big bang."

Kramer’s photography captures Dylan’s pensive, mysterious aura, but also more playful, relaxed moments; Dylan playing chess and pool. Another portrait, from Kramer’s first day shooting Dylan in Woodstock in August 1964, shows Dylan on a swing. "Dylan told me that the pictures I wanted wouldn’t work out," Daniel Kramer recalls. "Instead, he suggested I photograph him on the swing. His mood changed when he stood up and he pumped the swing higher and higher."

Kramer’s shots of Dylan were first published as a book in 1967. Now, as the musician celebrates his 75th birthday, Taschen is releasing a new collection of 200 images by Kramer, entitled Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day – some of them seen for the first time. Kramer was granted access to a global icon at a pivotal moment in his career. So what was Dylan really like at that time? "You’ll have to read the book to find out!"

On his first encounter with Bob Dylan... 
"I first heard Bob Dylan when I came across his performance on the Steve Allen variety show. He struck me as being very brave; he was on this popular television show but singing a poetic and very political song, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol. I wanted to make a portrait of what seemed to be an interesting and talented subject to make a visual statement to complement the feeling I had when I heard him sing. For me that’s the kind of challenge that brings adventure to photography. For several months I was cold-calling and writing letters to his management company. I was always told he was unavailable by whoever answered the phone, but one day I called after normal office hours and as luck would have it, Albert Grossman, Bob’s manager, picked up the phone. I was finally able to arrange a photo session – Mr. Grossman invited me up to Woodstock for an hour session with Bob Dylan – and that’s all I ever expected. Over the course of the year we had over 30 sessions together, and many during performances, practice sessions, in the recording studio or just during downtime."

On what makes a great photographic subject...
"Although I’ve photographed many musicians since then, my work as a photographer has always included all kinds of people in a multitude of professions and the arts – I always did, and still do, enjoy and look forward to photographing interesting and creative people regardless of what they do – or don’t do."

On being part of the action...
"A lot of people seem to believe that photographers are just a fly on the wall, but it’s not quite like that; it’s much more complicated and yes, sometimes you need to stay out of the way but sometimes you need to interact, sometimes you need to direct.

Yes, I am an observer, but also I am part of the scene, there is no getting away from that. It is definitely an interaction, and often it is a most delicate balance of all that is going on. At the end of my book there is a picture of me photographing Bob in a mirror, and that picture sums it all up: it is of two people making one picture." 

Daniel Kramer. Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day is out now, published by Taschen.

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