An exclusive interview with
Jerry Schatzberg

Conducted by Editors of On the Tracks

Veteran filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg and aspiring model Sara Lowndes were friends long before she married Bob Dylan, and he remained a friend to both Bob and Sara during their years together. On the Tracks is emensely grateful to Mr. Schatzberg for sharing his memories, insights and photographs of those days–most for the first time ever.

From the beginning Schatzberg saw something of himself in his friend Bobby: an introverted young artist willing to risk even his familial support system to attain artistic success. Unfortunately celebrity doesn’t come with an instruction manual and each person must sort out for themseves how to handle it. Dylan has been criticized for his sometimes erratic reactions to the uncomfortable situations brought on by celebrity, for being arrogant with the press, for not keeping in touch, for gleaning and moving on. But it never bothered Schatzberg. He understood. You see, he‘s also a driven artist whose basic shyness has been misunderstood.

As filmmaker, friend (in possession of a host of unpublished personal photographs), and like-minded artist able to comprehend Dylan’s psyche, Schatzberg might seem the perfect candidate to make a documentary film about Robert Zimmerman’s struggles to become Bob Dylan and keep his sanity – but On the Tracks wonders would a project like that interest him?

His answer: "A film about Bobby, no; with him, yes..."


How did you meet Bob Dylan and get the photographs that appear on the Bob Dylan Live 1966 album?

People kept telling me I should meet him. I knew Sara first, when she was Sara Lowndes. Sara was telling me about him. I remember being at her apartment overlooking the village and she would point out where Dylan was playing. I didn’t know Dylan, or his music at that time. The other person that kept telling me about Dylan was Nico, from the Velvet Underground. Everywhere I’d see her, whether in Paris or London or New York, Nico would mention Dylan, "You gotta see gotta hear Dylan." Finally I did and of course once I heard him, I loved him.

A couple years went by before I made contact with him though. I don’t remember the occasion but Al Aronowitz and Scott Ross were at my studio and they were talking about Dylan. I said, "Next time you see him, tell him that I would really like to photograph him."

About two to three days later I get a call from Sara saying, "Bobby hears you want to photograph him."

I said, "Yeah, I’d love to."

And she says, "Well, you know, it’s cool," and she told me where they were going to be recording.

I went in and met him, he’s very shy. I was kinda shy too. I just sort of got myself in a discreet place and did what I could. I got photographs of him writing, singing, of him just relaxing, playing the piano.... I think I got some very interesting photographs.

Most of these photos are unpublished?

Yes, the majority of them are unpublished.

So when you had a desire to photograph him, it was not for a certain project?

No, no, it wasn’t a project, yet. But once I saw him, I said I wanted something more... For me, I felt most anybody can go into the studio while they’re working, and get the same photographs. I wanted to get him in an environment that was special.

I thought I’d take him into my studio, just he and I. I didn’t particularly think of props [beforehand] but he would just love to pick up the things that I would use in some of my commercial work and hold them, and some of the photographs reflect that. He’d see things around the studio. He used a piece of sculpture, that’s basically a cross, in a lot of the photographs. There was an ironing board that he’d start to play with; a painting; there were books; just lots of things. He just loved to invent. I had a painting of a woman and he took a lit cigarette and put it by her mouth, as if she was smoking. Things like that. Those photographs were just wonderful, they were very unique and meaningful.

Matter of fact, I’ve started blowing up one sheet of contacts that are...every one to me is a gem. I blow the whole sheet up to 30x40 or 20x24. They’re spectacular.

A contact sheet would be rows of pictures on a page resembling an unrolled roll of film?

Yes. [I would also photograph] any of his friends that would come along, they’d get in the pictures whether it was Albert Grossman or David Blue. I don’t know if I got Phil Ochs with him, but Phil Ochs would come along and they’d argue about something. (He laughs at the memory.)

Phil was always very critical. You know, he didn’t think anything of telling Bobby that he thought a track was not very good, in the recording session. I think Bobby was very smart, he used to listen. He listened to Robbie Robertson and people that he respected–which is what you should do in a collaboration.

So I did the studio shots and it was after those that they asked me to do an album. The first album that I did was Blonde on Blonde. The gatefold cover is a double shot of him that’s slightly out of focus.

It has had every sort of interpretation from it was an LSD trip interpretation to a double exposure... But actually it was that we were outside, it was very cold and we were shaking. (He laughs.) Both of us! That’s really what it was, and that’s how it turned out.

Bobby picked the interior photographs. That album’s obviously a double cover inside too–and he picked from photographs that I had taken of him and photographs that he saw around the studio...a photograph of Claudia Cartinelli and a sort of a self-portrait of myself. Basically that photo was my credit because I don’t have my name on the album. My credit comes from the picture.

None of the pictures are captioned... So that’s you on the right, in the lower-middle of the original gate-fold cover. And with Dylan in the two uppermost-left photos?

Albert Grossman.

The girl whispering in Dylan’s ear?

I don’t recall [maybe a fan, but the pretty girl biting her lip is Claudia Cartinelli.]

But somewhere down the line Claudia’s people complained that no clearance was gotten and all that nonsense. It was a beautiful photograph of her, but in the next run Columbia had to take the picture of Claudia out so that’s [why the album jackets are different].

What other album covers did you do?

I didn’t do any more again until the Bob Dylan Live 1966. However, the Dylans and I sort of became friendly after I photographed him. We went out socially. I was a fashion photographer and I would host big parties at my studio. Dylan and Sara and his gang, they’d show up at the parties for a while. I also was part-owner in a couple of discotheques at different times and he used to hang out at them. I used to go around with him to some of the other discotheques that were happening in New York.

Is this with camera or as buddies?

No, just us. Although I got some casual photographs of him that I took at my place.

Did you ever go to Europe to photograph him?

I saw him in Europe but I didn’t photograph him there.

Did you see the Manchester show that is on the Live 1966 release?

No, I didn’t see that show. It was just after. I also missed the show in France, when they booed him because he spent about an hour tuning his guitar! I caught up to him in London, where I was doing some other work.

I kept in contact with Albert Grossman and found out where they would be. Then I showed up in London at somebody’s apartment. Everybody was sitting around on the floor and just having a great old time.

What was his feedback about the unfavorable reaction to his playing?

He was quite angry. I had seen him [angry about it] before, after the Forest Hills concert. He’d gone electric up in Newport and got booed there–so he decided he was gonna "show them."

He went to Forest Hills and got booed there. Afterwards we all hung out at Albert Grossman’s apartment in Gramercy Park. Bobby was carrying on. He was really angry about it, you know? And he turned out to be right!

I think artists have the right to go in whatever direction they want to go and if it takes the people a while to catch up, that’s the way it is. He knew what he was doing. But nobody likes to get booed.

The audience just had no patience–they wanted that acoustic guitar and those few songs that they knew him by, and they weren’t going to hear anything else.

But to his credit, he just stuck with it. He was quite angry from what I remember... (He chuckles to himself.) But I won’t quote you the expletives that I heard!

How did your photographs get on the Bob Dylan Live ‘66 CD, what transpired?

I don’t know where Sony had seen them, it may have come from the Dylan camp, for all I know.

Someone there remembered that you had taken them?

I really don’t know. And unless Bobby himself remembered about the photographs–I don’t know how they approached it to him, even. I just heard from my good friend Barry [Feinstein] one day that, "We’re sharing an album."

You had taken photographs of Sara before Dylan, how heavy into modeling or how popular was she?

I don’t think she was very heavy into it. She was trying. I think what I took were probably test shots, for her [modeling] book. I think she was married...ah, she had been married, to a photographer. And if I’m not mistaken, her daughter, Maria was born already.

Do you know how Sara and Dylan met?

No. I don’t recall at the moment.

Is she pretty shy also?

She’s shy, she’s funny, she’s got a great sense of humor.

I remember once Sara and I went out with an English friend, Terrence Donovan, a photographer. He was [physically] huge. He was a great character; he’s my best buddy. At that time I used to travel around on a Vespa. He came over and we all went out together, the three of us on my Vespa. We were having a great time driving through New York until we were arrested (he laughs) for riding three on a Vespa!

Dylan has a son who’s a filmmaker, Jesse.

I once photographed Jesse with Sara–beautiful photographs–he was probably about a week old.

Have you ever met him as an adult, since you’re both filmmakers?

No, I haven’t.

So you’ve lost touch with the family on a private level?

Yeah, I’ve lost touch with them. Although I’ve seen Bobby a couple of times socially since then, mostly out in California. I used to go out there to do my films all the time.

Sara called once when I got out there and asked, "Why don’t we have dinner? Bobby would like to have dinner."

I said, "Great! Where do you want to go?"

She said, "Oh, anywhere."

And I knew of a new Moroccan place–it was sort of the place everyone was going to–and I said, "Well I don’t know, but would he want to go to a place like that?"

And she said, "Yeah, he’ll go." I couldn’t imagine him going, from what I had heard of the place, but we made a reservation.

We went there and Bobby showed up and, you know, the first thing they do at the restaurant is wash your hands. He wouldn’t put out his hands for them to wash. He just wouldn’t do anything. And we sat there, and he just wouldn’t really talk, either. He was very into himself. Now, I had a new wife and maybe that made him a little shy also.

What time period is this that you’re talking about?

Somewhere in the mid-to-late ‘60s.

He was sullen.

Yes, he was, and he wasn’t liking this restaurant. He wouldn’t eat very much, if anything at all, ‘cause it’s a place that you eat with your fingers. And he wasn’t going to do it. Part way through the meal he got up, walked out, and then came back and said he was leaving. Then he went up and called a cab and left us there. So we took Sara home that night.

Was this normal behavior for him?

I think when he’s uncomfortable, he just doesn’t know how to really handle it. And you know, whenever anybody asks me what he’s like, the one thing I can say, he’s painfully shy, just painfully shy.

That’s interesting, maybe his shyness bothers him when he does TV work because he’s a bit stiff, yet you mentioned that working with you he actually mugged for the camera.

Oh, yeah. Because I made it as comfortable for him as possible, which meant that it was just me and him. Bobby Neuwirth was around, but he felt very comfortable with Bobby. He’d even show off a little bit for Bobby and for whatever friends might be around.

The process, for him, it was almost like writing. The process of creating is the process of creating. He’d look around and see [what he could make use of]. If you think of his writing, it’s not run-of-the-mill or mainstream and he would do the same thing in my studio if he could. I can show you photographs of ways that we put together things that were really interesting with bizarre top hats, costumes and all that.

The one thing that was funny... We’d try to find other outfits and I’d bring stuff down for him to try from my loft above my studio...he’d look at them and try them and he’d say, "Yeah, yeah, oh yeah," but in the end he wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t his idea. He’s his own person. And I always felt he was just shy, distressingly shy.

You’ve just read an excerpt of the interview with Jerry Schatzberg. The complete interview appears in On the Tracks issue #18 and is available from Rolling Tomes.



© Copyright 1993-2005 Rolling Tomes Inc / On the Tracks
All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form without written permission from Rolling Tomes Inc.