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Bob Dylan before the fame: rare photos of a struggling folk singer emerge after 30 years gathering dust

A picture says a thousand words, although a photograph of Bob Dylan may leave some without much to talk about. Former American freelance photographer, Ted Russell, had the unusual pleasure of photographing Dylan in 1961, after receiving a call from Dylan’s publicist at Columbia Records.

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The shots remained in a drawer for 30 years, although are now published in a book by Rizzoli as well as featuring in an exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea.

Having no particular knowledge of Dylan or folk music entirely, Russell was surprised to hear about this new musician who preached riding on freight-trains and a hobo lifestyle. Mr Russell, now 87-years-old and living in Forest Hills in Queens, recalled attending a folk gig in Greenwich, at Gerde’s Folk City where he heard Dylan’s voice for the first time through a series of demos.

Having a personal love for Billie Holiday and absolutely no interest in folk music, Russell accepted the offer to photograph Dylan, believing it to be an interesting project. Russell snapped Dylan at the folk club before accompanying him home to his apartment on West 4th Street a few days later.

Russell, encouraging Dylan to ignore him, shot Dylan around the apartment with former girlfriend Suze Rotolo, with only a word or two in exchange. The idea was for Russell to be invisible, where he could shoot Dylan going about his day-to-day life. Dylan pretended to take no notice of the camera, while Russell promised to keep his lips sealed in regards to anything he heard.

Russell tried to pitch his story of “the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming folk singer trying to make it in the big city” to Life magazine, with unfortunately, a very uninterested response.

Next, Russell approached the Saturday Evening Post, who after seeing Russell’s photographs seemed intrigued with the mysterious new folk singer. It wasn’t until they asked Russell to play some of the singers music that they turned him down.

The shots remained in a drawer for 30 years, and are now published in a book by Rizzoli as well as featuring in an exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. After shooting the widely-known, famous folk legend again in 1963 and 1964 at his height of success, Russell admits he never became a Bob Dylan fan.

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[Photo Credit: Ted Russell/Polaris/Steven Kasher Gallery via NY Times]