Fifty years ago, Douglas Gilbert was a 21 year old photographer who worked at Look Magazine. He had been assigned to work on a story about a then-23 year old musician named Bob Dylan, who was making a steady name for himself on the folk scene.
He followed him to Greenwich Village, the Newport Folk Festival, and his home in Woodstock, New York, taking images of him with a sly grin and ruffled hair, playing music and hanging out with friends and family. The story never ran and the photos remained unseen by the public until 2005, when Gilbert turned them into an exhibition and later a book, titled "Forever Young."
The show is currently on view at the South Haven Center for the Arts. In viewing the classic photos of a young, seemingly carefree 20-something Dylan in his element, the first question that begs to be asked is, naturally, why weren't they published?
"I've asked myself that a few times. I don't know, but the response is I think, too driven by advertising. There was a great reluctance to even look like they were offending an advertiser. They were really rather overly sensitive to that," says Gilbert, who now lives in West Michigan.
Here's more from our interview:
" I spent time with him at his house and [with] close friends, and I really felt as if I'd been let in to an inner circle. I told him I was not going to interfere with anything but I was going to be close and observe. And he kind of thought that over and thought 'Well, okay we'll give it a try.' He never spoke to me about I was too close, I was taking too many photographs or anything. We really got along the whole time."
On how the exhibition came to be:
"I didn't know for nearly forty years what the status was. I found out in 2005 from a fellow Look photographer. I just happened to mention that I had these negatives and I didn't know what to do, if I had the rights or who owned the rights, and he looked at me and said 'You own the rights!' I found out that LOOK had called all the photographers in the New York area who they could reach at the close of the magazine, which was in early '72, and said 'You've got three days to come in. You can take all your negatives, all your color - it's all yours and you own the rights. Well I never heard of it because I was in Illinois [at the time]. So I found this out in early 2004 and by 2005, early, we had a major exhibition in Los Angeles of the work. It's just been real interesting ever since then."
On what Bob Dylan thought of the images, decades later:
"The man who designs all of his record albums came to the exhibit and he came to another exhibit of mine of a whole other subject out in Los Angeles and we really got along well. And he was intrigued with all of the stuff. I had asked him if he had looked at those contact sheets which he had, with Bob, and what his response was. And so he said 'I will ask him the next time that we get together.' I learned a little bit later from him that Dylan was really intrigued with it. He said that he didn't remember a lot of it but he did remember a few and he had a couple of favorites. I think he did [like the photos]."
The exhibition will be on view through September 9.