Books

Dylan by Schatzberg: A New Photography Book Is A-Coming

by Wendy Sy Photographed by JERRY SCHATZBERG. FROM THE BOOK ‘DYLAN BY SCHATZBERG’, PUBLISHED BY ACC ART BOOKS.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018


Jerry Schatzberg’s apartment on the Upper West Side—right next to Central Park—is filled with books and VHS tapes all shelved on the wall in alphabet order. Well, not all. The first shelf can use some organizing, the photographer and film director says on a late August afternoon. On the coffee table in the center of the living room are four copies of his new book, Dylan by Schatzberg (ACC Art Books). Each is in a different language: English, Italian, German and French—hot off the press. The English version will drop in the U.S. on October 25.


Throughout the 262 pages are rare photos, mostly in black and white, of Bob Dylan during a pivotal time in his music career—the ‘60s. In the mix are also shots of typewriter lyrics and handwritten notes. “My friends Nico and Sara [who later married Dylan] kept telling me to listen to Dylan,” says Schatzberg, in a pair of rimless oval eyeglasses, a faded black Bob Marley t-shirt, dark blue jeans and beige Premiata sneakers with red laces. At the age of 91, his memory is as sharp as ever, recalling moments rather quickly, like it was yesterday. There were moments, however, that he would pause before conjuring up a thoughtful answer to a question. “I finally listened to Dylan and was very impressed.” It was the combination of honesty and art in the folk-rock singer-songwriter’s work that resonated with him, and still does to this day.



Schatzberg connected with Dylan through rock and roll journalist Al Aronowitz. At that moment, he was already a respected figure in the photography world, having shot fashion and photography portraits for Vogue, Esquire, and Life, among others. As quoted by Julia Morton in the book: Schatzberg is “The right guy at the right time in the right place.”


Dylan always had a thing for privacy, especially towards the press, but was welcoming towards Schatzberg when they first met at his studio, where he was recording Highway 61 Revisited. “He greeted me like an old friend. Through Aronowitz and Sara, I think, my credentials were pretty good,” says Schatzberg.


And that’s when it all began.


He captured Dylan in candid and posed shots at every angle, playing with shadows and props. There’s Dylan looking up, looking down, to the side, close-ups of his messy curly hair, narrow face, tab-collar shirt and pinstripe pants. There’s Dylan holding his harmonica, a cross, a set of keys, a picture frame of a woman, and so on. In these photos, he always seemed to have “an ominous, looming presence,” as noted by Jonathan Lethem in the book. From the placement of his hands over his eyes to the to the hazy fog of his cigarette smoke, it’s all about the composition of these little details that make each shot compelling, moving, and a bit mysterious. Perhaps the rarity of Dylan’s interviews added to his intrigue. It wasn’t until 2004, with the release of his memoir Chronicles: Volume I (Simon & Schuster), that the public really had a chance to hear the first person narrative on his career.


Dylan recording session for Highway 61 Revisited, 1965



Dylanophiles may find some of the photos familiar, as many are also in Schatzberg’s 2006 release of Thin Wild Mercury (Genesis Publications), although the two books differ significantly in text and design. Thin Wild Mercury is a 300-page collector’s item, a limited-edition run of just 1,500 signed copies with a cloth bound slipcase, and oh yes, the few that are available today are mostly sold upwards of $1,000. The beginning of the text focuses on Dylan’s life and transitions to highlight Schatzberg’s childhood and career. Dylan by Schatzberg, by contrast, will be sold for $70 and starts with Aronowitz’s New York Herald Tribune article “A Night With Bob Dylan” from December 12, 1965. It continues in a Q&A format between Lethem and Schatzberg. “His probing allowed me to realize what I had initially captured subconsciously,” says the author in the acknowledgments. In true Schatzberg style—who later directed 11 films—it reads like an ongoing dialogue, a screenplay in book form.


“He thinks in movement; he makes up stories. The physical and emotional energy in his pictures keeps them fluid, vibrating. Light shimmers, hearts beat. Schatzberg is the “anti still-life photographer,” says Gail Buckland in the book.


Blonde on Blonde, 1966



One of the photographer’s most notable shots is the cover for Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde. “It was either in ’65 or ’66,” he says, while walking over to the shelf and pulling out a record book from the latter year. Flipping through, he finds the project written in ink under February 8, 1966. It was a Tuesday. “I took a few photos in his studio and there was nothing special about it so we went out. He had on a thin jacket and I didn’t want to go out with a big heavy coat so I also put on a thin jacket. The two of us got out there [about 12 blocks south of the Meatpacking District]. I remember when I was a kid, I used to go to that area with my parents on the weekend and have steak and potatoes.”


He continues, “Actually, last week I found the exact location. The building is not there but you can tell from what’s in the background. I tried to find it before and I couldn’t…it’s very distinct.” Schatzberg goes to get his camera from the other room and clicks the playback button to find a shot he took of the cross streets: West Street, Morton Street, and Detective Claude “Danny” Richards Way.


When the album came out on May 16, 1966, it sparked a frenzy. The cover photo, a blurry, somewhat sepia tone headshot of Dylan, messy hair and all, wearing a brown jacket and checkered scarf, provoked questions. “I remember so many people started saying, ‘Oh, it was to emulate a drug trip.’” Truth is, it was the dead of winter and it was downright cold. “I was shaking. There are only about three images that are moving like that—the rest are very sharp. It’s an honest photograph. He just saw that and picked it. I probably would have never sent that to Columbia. They are a record company and are not very imaginative.”


But it got people talking.


Rewinding back to Schatzberg’s start in photography, he came onto the scene pretty late in the game. He grew up in the Bronx, moved to Rego Park at the age of 13, got married and moved to an apartment on Queens Boulevard before calling East Meadow, Long Island, home with his wife and two kids. They then relocated to Kew Gardens. At 27 years old, he had been working for his family’s fur business and wanted out. “I would go for two hour lunch breaks and my father wasn’t very happy. I just saw an ad one day to work as a photographic assistant and had no idea what it was,” he says. “I called this guy up, told him my story and he said, ‘Ok, come in and I’ll see what I can do.’ He was a headhunter.”


The Soul of, 1966



After turning down a potential job lead due to minimal pay, he took a stint working as a baby photographer at his uncle’s company. About a year later, he went back to the headhunter who then helped him land an assistant position to Bill Helburn. The then up-and-comer also took Alexey Brodovitch’s historic ten-week course before going freelance on his own. By then, he had divorced and moved to a studio in New York City. As quoted on Schatzberg’s website, he says, “It’s the type of business where you are always extending yourself. You have to buy equipment and supplies before you can afford it. You work 24 hours a day: you shoot in the daytime, you process in the evening, you print all night and at about four o’clock you go to Bickford’s for a cup of coffee to sustain yourself.”


At one point, he also co-owned nightclubs, Ondine, uptown, then Salvation, on Sheridan Square, where rock legends like Jimi Hendrix (when he was still Jimmy James) performed. Schatzberg and Dylan’s collaboration came to an end in ’67, not long after the musician’s famous motorcycle accident. They haven’t seen each since ’73, at a mutual friend’s wedding. “He’s on the road all the time and I’m making films but I’ve been in contact with his manager, Jeff. We’re having breakfast tomorrow.” These days, Dylan’s touring in the U.S. through December 3.


“As a photographic subject, Dylan was the best,” noted Schatzberg. “You just point the camera at him and things happen. We had a good rapport and he was willing to try anything.”


Playful Dylan, 1965

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