Life & Culture

Photos of Bob Dylan by the Only Photographer He Was Comfortable With

Treated like ‘one of the other guys’, Jerry Schatzberg had unique access to the voice of his generation – here, he reflects on his images of the singer

American photographer and filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg remembers Nico from the Velvet Underground imploring him, “You must listen to Bob Dylan!” And, after receiving a phone call in Paris, Schatzberg acquiesced to her impassioned pleas. Things would never be the same.

One day in 1965, Schatzberg was in his studio working on an assignment, while listening to journalist Al Aronowitz and DJ Scott Ross talk about Dylan. Schatzberg told them to pass along word he would love to photograph the folk singer. The next day he received a call from an old friend – Sara, Dylan’s wife, who extended an invitation to visit Bob while he was recording Highway 61 Revisited.

From these humble beginnings, an enduring collaboration was born, one between artists that would result in some of the most iconic images of Dylan ever made. In Dylan by Schatzberg (ACC Art Books), the 91-year-old photographer returns to his archive to unearth some of his most captivating portraits of “The Voice of a Generation.” Here, Schatzberg remembers what it was like to photograph the enigmatic and inscrutable Bob Dylan.

“Bob Dylan was suspicious of photographers and journalists, and people in general sometimes, but when I first arrived at the recording studio, he treated me like one of the other guys. They were recording and he played a few things for me. He took the time to make me feel comfortable and make me like feel a part of it.

The cover of Blonde on Blonde was basically a happy accident. By that time, we were already collaborators and had done three or four sittings. I started the sitting in my studio and I wasn’t too happy with where I was going. I thought maybe would find something outdoors. It was the beginning of February and it was very cold.

I wasn’t going to put on a big down jacket because he was just wearing a thin suede jacket – so were both out there shivering. We were joking, having fun. I have one photograph with a smile but I don’t like it as much; I like the serious, soulful ones. I was able to keep the camera steady through most of the sitting but there were four or five images that were out of focus, and this is the one I liked the best.

At that time, whatever Dylan would send to the record companies, they would use. He picked all the inside photographs also. They were lying around my studio and he chose them. He picked the self-portrait of me and put it in there. He never said a word about it – he just took it. I don’t get a written credit on the album, which suits me just fine. That’s the way he is.”

Dylan by Schatzberg is out now