Pictures of Dylan: Musical Legend Through Past Lens

A photographer himself, Daniel Kramer believes that every photographer needs three simple tools: a camera, a telephone, and “yes.” 

“Don’t worry about what happens after ‘yes’,” explains Kramer, speaking in conversation with Oregon State University Director of Popular Music and Performing Arts, Bob Santelli last week. “You’ll figure that out.”

So, what did Kramer say when a young Bob Dylan invited him to travel to Philadelphia and shoot pictures? 

“I said to Bob, ‘Of course I want to go to Philadelphia. I’m dying to go’,” Kramer recalled. 

A selection of Kramer’s photographs of Bob Dylan, taken in more than 30 shoots over the course of a year and a day in 1964 and 1965, are on display at OSU’s Fairbanks Gallery, now through November 30. 

Kramer, a respected portrait photographer who had just opened his own gallery after working for several years as an assistant to photographer, Philippe Halsman, had hounded Dylan’s agency for months with phone calls and letters after seeing Dylan sing “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” on TV. He knew he needed to take Dylan’s portrait. The agency finally gave the photographer half an hour – which turned into half a day – with the singer in upstate New York.  

The Philadelphia trip presented a chance for Kramer to deepen his relationship with Dylan, so he could “make better pictures.” The best photographs, Kramer said, come from deep relationships, like the one Kramer had with writer and activist, Norman Mailer and his family for over three years. 

“It’s like a marriage,” he said, recognizing the role his subjects play in the pictures. “Bob is smart. Bob knows how to help make the picture.”

Other times, Kramer compared photography to boxing; the photographer must be patient and persistent with subjects who would sometimes rather goof around than “make good pictures.” 

“I’m the professional,” he explains. “I’ll wait until the seventh round, so we spar.”

Kramer’s photographs of Dylan have been published widely, including on the covers of three Dylan albums, “Bringing It All back Home,” “Highway 61 revisited,” and “Biograph.” His 1967 book, “Bob Dylan,” was critically acclaimed, and Kramer’s photos have been shown or collected by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the International Center of Photography, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and more.

Kramer, now 85, has seen massive changes in the field of photography, from manual film cameras in the ‘60s, to today’s digital photography. But for Kramer, programs like Photoshop are just new tools that photographers are obligated to use. 

“If you’re making art, you have the right to use any weapon you can find,” says Kramer. “People haven’t changed, the technology has changed.”  

Bob Dylan: Photographs by Daniel Kramer is on display at OSU’s Fairbanks Gallery, 220 S.W. 26th St., through Nov. 30. The Gallery is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F. Admission is free.   

By Maggie Anderson