Publisher Guy White examines the work of one of Bob Dylan’s most trusted photographers, Ken Regan
Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour took place from the autumn of 1975 to the summer of 1976, and, as well as becoming iconic in its own right, this time on the road resulted in some of most revealing photographs of the legendary singer-songwriter. As Ken Regan, the late photographer behind the images, once said: “Bob had given me free rein to shoot it all – onstage, offstage, dressing rooms, parties, trailer, whatever was going on.”
The tour came at a time both politically and artistically charged in Dylan’s career. He had just completed his 17th album, Desire, which included the song Hurricane: a powerful response to the wrongful murder conviction of boxer Rubin Carter. In the fall of 1975, at the end of the tour’s first leg, Dylan would perform the song at Trenton State Prison where Carter was incarcerated, joined onstage by Allen Ginsberg.
Dylan attracted the icons of his generation; musicians, writers, and filmmakers were welcomed to drop in along the way of Rolling Thunder Revue. Some stopped by for a conversation, while others ended up staying for the whole tour. Photographer Regan was on-hand to shoot not only the performances, but the moments in between: Dylan and Patti Smith finding a moment to talk on the stairs; Ginsberg, cross-legged and barefoot, with Dylan on guitar, smiling at the camera behind Kerouac’s grave; and the tail-end of a joke shared while he recorded in the studio with Bette Midler.
Ken Regan’s photos of the tour are engaging because he was engaged – a part of the joke, the party and the specific moment in music history. The book of his collected photos provides a view from all different vantage points, from backstage as well as a member – like the rest of us – of the watching crowd.
Below, Guy White, editor at Ormand Yard Press, talks about his relationship with Regan, and explains why his photographs of Rolling Thunder Revue still feel so immediate, 40 years on.
“I first met Ken Regan in 2004, shortly after we set up our photography gallery, Snap.
“In one of our early meetings, Ken shared with me a relatively small selection (probably no more than 200 images in total) of images from his Rolling Thunder sessions, and I was struck immediately by them. Not just by how much quality material there was, but also how little had been published in photography books over the years.
“Ken’s relationship with Dylan was based on mutual trust; Ken was the soul of discretion. In a meeting before the tour had started, Bob Dylan explained that his wife and children were going to be on the Rolling Thunder tour at various times, and, although Ken could photograph them, he would not be able to release those pictures. They shook hands, and Ken never betrayed that trust. Ken never talked in-depth about his time on the tour – probably for good reason – because he wanted his photographs to do the talking.
“Ken is the only one of what I would classify as the ‘major Bob Dylan photographers’ (Daniel Kramer, Barry Feinstein, Jerry Schatzberg and a couple of others are with him) who had not published his own book of Dylan photographs.
“When I set up our publishing arm, Ormond Yard Press in 2011, I had a plan for the first 10 titles, and right up there was this book. I was delighted that Ken’s family agreed to us publishing Rolling Thunder: Photographs by Ken Regan.
“Why now? Well, the tour happened 40 years ago, so it seemed as good a time as any to publish it. We certainly didn’t want to wait until 50 years had gone by… It’s a beautiful book in a staggering large format – my only regret is that Ken passed away in 2012 and will not get the chance to see it.