January 1962 New York City Bob Dylan in his Greenwich Village apartment with his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo.

January 1962
New York City
Bob Dylan in his Greenwich Village apartment with his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo.

This month’s featured artist is photographer Ted Russell. To correspond with his current exhibition Bob Dylan NYC: 1961-1964 (on view April 4-21, 2016), we’re sharing his experience photographing Bob Dylan.

From Ted Russell’s introduction to his book Bob Dylan NYC: 1961-1964:

I’ve often thought of my life as a series of Walter Mitty-like fantasies that sometimes become real because of lucky accidents. The chain of events that led me to Bob Dylan is a prime example.

John Kurland, who had quit RCA and joined Columbia Records, called and told me about a new and upcoming young folk singer named Bob Dylan, John knew that, as a freelancer, I was always on the lookout for story ideas to generate assignments from major magazines. He described how Dylan presented his persona of an itinerant hobo-like character in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, riding freight trains in old blue jeans, wearing a funny cap, and singing and writing folk songs, as he strummed his guitar.

I ended up going to Gerde’s Folk City on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village in November 1961 to meet and photograph Bob Dylan during a live performance. So in what I can only describe as a serendipitous moment, I, totally ignorant of the folk music world, was given unlimited access to photograph a nascent creative genius of that very ilk soon destined for international fame, adulation, and near-deification.

I chatted with Dylan after his performance, explaining that I wanted to shoot some test photos so I could pitch the idea of a photo essay on the struggles on an up-and-coming folk singer trying to make it in New York City to the national magazines. We arranged to meet in his walk-up apartment in a brownstone building at 116 W. 4th Street in Greenwich Village a couple of days later. I explained my way of working was to be as unobtrusive as possible while trying to capture candid, unposed moments. Which is exactly what Bob, in particular, did, strumming the guitar in many different positions, sometimes while playing the harmonica as he sprawled while still wearing boots on the big bed on the floor of the sparsely furnished apartment. Other times he toyed with the record player, played with the harmonica, or sat on the edge of the mattress smoking a cigarette. These were all unposed moments captured quickly with my 35mm Nikon on black-and-white film using available light.

I made a trip to

[The Saturday Evening] Post’s offices in Philadelphia to pitch my idea for a photo essay on Bob Dylan. After reading Robert Shelton’s review and seeing my photos, the editors initially seemed quite enthusiastic- until they asked me to play the demo records. They were all seated around a large oak conference table, waiting to hear the records, and as soon as I played the first one, they looked dismayed, and asked me if I was playing it at the correct speed. I tried at 33 rpm, and then 45 rpm, and they didn’t like that either. Then I tried 78 rpm, and the records made a whirring noise that was more displeasing. The Saturday Evening Post editors decided to pass on the story. 

And the rest is history. I had a series of assignments in Europe and forgot all about my Dylan photos until, years later, my good friend Jean-Pierre Pappis urged me to have them published. Bob Dylan went on international fame and fortune.