On 20 July 1965, Bob Dylan, star of the Greenwich Village folk scene, exploded onto the pop charts. In the six minutes and thirteen seconds that it took for ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to debut on US radio, Dylan had virtually created grown-up rock music. But his spectacular reinvention had not just happened overnight – it had been brewing for a while. At the beginning of this astonishing period, through talent, persistence and good fortune, photographer Daniel Kramer documented the highs of an extraordinary year in the life of Bob Dylan, now revisited in Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day published by Taschen and printed in Italy.
Kramer first saw Dylan on a television variety show in February 1964. ‘It was the kind of sound I always liked,’ he writes. ‘It reminded me of a voice from the hills … like a voice that had been left out in the rain and rusted …’ At that moment Kramer decided that he had to photograph the singer, a man who was brave enough to play songs about social injustice on mainstream TV. He called Dylan’s management: ‘Naturally I was told Mr Dylan was not available. And so it went. I would call and they would say no.’ One day, Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, picked up the phone. ‘I convinced him that I was a reasonable, completely sane, published, professional photographer. I was caught by surprise when his almost immediate answer was, “Okay, come up to Woodstock next Thursday. You can have an hour”. Just like that … just like that!’
So Kramer drove two hours north of New York City on a bright August morning and spent the day following the 23-year-old Dylan as he read newspapers, played chess, and hung out with Sally Grossman (Albert’s wife) and his own wife-to-be, Sara Lownds. In the early 1960s, Woodstock was a sleepy place where Dylan could escape from the increasing intensity of life in New York. The pictures are winningly relaxed and goofy, Dylan obviously finding Kramer a copacetic presence.
From that simple beginning, Kramer photographed Dylan on 30 occasions over the next 365 days. More than 200 images from this period are collated in the book, alongside Kramer’s fascinating recollections. We learn that he becomes one of Dylan’s travelling companions, and he’s given both the space and time to produce meaningful work. It is a hallmark of Dylan’s relationships with the producers, musicians and photographers who come into his orbit, that once they are admitted, they are allowed to bring their vision with them. Kramer takes full advantage, producing classic black-and-white reportage backstage, onstage, in cars and cafes.
Kramer had come to photography early, aged fourteen, and later fell into a job at the studio of fashion photographer Allan Arbus. ‘His wife, Diane Arbus, also did her darkroom work there – it turned out to be more than just a job. From Allan I learned to manage a studio, work with models, and run the business – and from Diane, I learned to open my eyes a bit wider, to think about my pictures in new ways.’ His next gig was assisting Philippe Halsman, legendary Life magazine cover photographer. ‘From Philippe, I learned how to make light do your bidding, instead of the other way around … and that photography could be a great adventure and a pathway to the whole world.’
The book, which is designed in the US and printed in Italy, is broken into sections (Woodstock, Town Hall, In the Studio, Bob & Joan, Early ’65, Forest Hills) by lyrics letterpressed on to heavy matt paper, while Kramer’s narrative is set in an era-specific typewriter face. The sheer size of the book lets you feel that you’re at a well curated exhibition, where the scaling and sequencing of the images is perfectly judged and you can appreciate the detail of the gorgeous grain of the 35mm Kodak Tri-x film used by Kramer.
In the centre of the book are Kramer’s images from the cover session for Bringing It All Back Home, one of the two albums Dylan would release in 1965 (the other, Highway 61 Revisited, also had a cover shot by Kramer). Initially, Columbia’s art director, John Berg, refused to commission the (as he saw it) inexperienced Kramer to shoot the cover, but Grossman intervened, and made ‘a series of predictions of what bad things would happen [to Berg] if I did not get this assignment.’
Having been present at the recording sessions, Kramer knew he had to deliver something that related to Dylan’s radical change of direction, so he took ‘multiple exposures on one sheet of film while moving, blurring, or keeping sharp parts of any single exposure’ – a world away from his usual fly-on-the-wall 35mm reportage. Arranging Dylan in a room at Grossman’s Woodstock house, with Sally Grossman draped on a sofa, Kramer scoured the house for props to put in the picture. ‘I wanted to say that Bob Dylan was less a folksinger and more a prince of music. So there in the centre of the turning record is Bob Dylan without an instrument, in this beautiful room, seated with a beautiful woman in a red dress … we were lucky to get one exposure with the cat [held by Dylan] looking into my lens.’
Around this time, a new Dylan snapped into view and the pages of the book turn from images of him joking around with old friends to those with an early hero, Johnny Cash. Dylan is about to play one of his last acoustic shows and has morphed from Chaplinesque troubadour to a more angular, focused presence. The next stage in his career is about to begin in earnest, and it will lead to the alienation of Dylan’s loyal fanbase. His artistic horizons are widening to take in Pop Art and film-making – from Greenwich Village to the Warhol Factory was only a few downtown blocks, but in 1965 it was an artistic chasm. As Dylan moved inexorably across from one to the other, the air was thick with cries of ‘Sell Out!’ and worse. Kramer finds himself shooting from the inside out.
Daniel Kramer’s Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day won the Premio Speciale Gianfranco Fedrigoni / Special Award Gianfranco Fedrigoni at the 2017 Top Award. The exterior of the clamshell box for the book is covered with Materica Kraft 120 g/m2, with the edges of the upper and lower trays covered in Materica Verdigris and lined with Materica Acqua.
The title page and chapter openers are letterpress printed by Nello Russo in Turin at Archivio Tipografico. They feature tipped-in prints of Daniel Kramer’s photographs on a selection of Materica papers including Materica Kraft, Clay, Verdigris, Acqua and Pitch. The book also includes three handsome gatefolds. It was printed at ArteGrafica, in Verona, Italy, part of the Graphicom group. Editor: Nina Weiner. Art director: Josh Baker. Designer: Jess Sappenfield. Published by Taschen.
A show at Forest Hills with electric backing plunged Dylan into a maelstrom, as his desire to follow his muse sees him branded a ‘Judas’ and pelted with objects. Visually, Dylan’s look begins to assume the sharp outlines of an icon and he is entering the period where he would be drawn by Milton Glaser as a rainbow-headed visualisation of the grooviness and excitement of the mid-1960s.
The concert signalled the end of Kramer’s travels with Bob. The last shots are of Dylan at one remove from his audience, backlit by blinding spotlights as someone invades the stage, chased by cops. A tour of the US and Europe awaits him, his world accelerating until it culminates in a motorcycle accident that will remove him from the public glare.
Daniel Kramer went on to enjoy a successful career straddling editorial, advertising and motion-picture work. And Dylan? Well, he’s metaphorically still ‘on the road, heading to another joint …’, not stopping long enough to be pinned down. But we, luckily, have this epic production to linger over, reliving that remarkable year when the times were truly changing.
All photographs © Daniel Kramer