Rare photographs of Bob Dylan, shot over a year-long period in the mid-1960s, go on show in Paris next week in an exhibition that captures the moment the protest folk singer morphed into cult rock star.
From 1961 to 1966, Dylan wrote seven albums that marked the history of pop, but also underwent a radical transformation between the first, “Bob Dylan”, and the last, “Blonde on Blonde”.
Entitled “Bob Dylan: The Rock Explosion 1961-66,” the Paris show centres on 60 rare shots by the New York photographer Daniel Kramer, captured at the precise moment Dylan was making the switch from folk to rock.
Speaking in Paris ahead of the opening next Tuesday at the capital’s Cite de la Musique, Kramer, now 80, told AFP how he came to spend a year on-and-off with the singer.
He first approached Dylan — whose real name is Robert Zimmerman — after seeing the young man in his 20s on television, performing a song called “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”
“I didn’t know much about this music but when I heard this song, and this young guy with a guitar, and no other musicians, it was overwhelming,” recalled the photographer.
“The lyrics were so strong, and he was so young, and willing to say things that people didn’t say on public entertainment… So I thought he would be a very good subject for a portrait for my portfolio.”
After six months of badgering, Dylan’s agent finally agreed to grant Kramer an hour with the singer.
“So I ran up the following week, and I met Bob and my hour turned into five hours.”
For exactly a year the pair continued to meet and take pictures, from a bucolic shot of Dylan perched up a tree, taken in Woodstock on August 27th, 1964, to the singer tuning up his electric guitar for a concert in New York’s Forest Hills stadium, on August 28th the following year.
Over the course of those crucial 12 months, Kramer captured Dylan in concentration, joking around and sharing private moments with Joan Baez, or conversations with Allen Ginsberg or Johnny Cash.
“When I began he was a folk singer with one guitar and no back-up guys, no electrics, and one year later he’s at a huge stadium with huge speakers all over. He had a band, and he was electric with a whole new music.”
The 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home” epitomised the transformation.
“Dylan moved away from folk with songs that were a lot less militant, more introspective — and of course by going electric,” said Julie Benet, curator of the show organised jointly with the Los Angeles Grammy Museum.
“The shift caused a scandal in the folk world.”
Asked if Dylan was easy to photograph, Kramer paused before replying:
“He was a good subject, a very good subject,” he said. “He’s very smart about the camera and about pictures.”
“All photographers who make special pictures do it because their subject works with them,” added the photographer, who also shot album covers for Dylan at the time. “It is a symbiotic relationship.”
“During that year we had many meetings, some sessions were one hour and some three days. Sometimes he called and said: ‘What are you doing?’ I would be working in the studio, and he’d say ‘If you can get out, let’s make some pictures.’”
“It was an intense time, it was very good, and I was very fortunate.”
The Paris show, which runs to July 15, also features shots of Dylan as a child, then a chubby teenager in school yearbooks from his Minnesota hometown, as well as manuscripts, a guitar, and a raft of sound archives loaned by the Grammy Museum.