Bob Dylan is a name so ubiquitous with music that, for many of us, it feels very difficult to think of him as anything else but mythical. The freewheeling troubadour is the archetypal folk poet and has created such a wealth of music, poetry and intrigue it’s very difficult to imagine him as a young, shapeless and impressionable artist looking for his break. But he was. Photographer Ted Russell documented the fledgeling moments of Dylan’s career and below are some candid shots of a 20-year-old Bob with the world at his feet and a twinkle in his eye.
In November 1961, a young and somewhat naive Bob Dylan had completed his first set of paid performances at Gerde’s Folk City in New York’s Greenwich Village. The folk singer was now starting to attract audiences and attention alike. “Mr Dylan is both a comedian and a tragedian.” reviewed the New York Times, a rare good review for a new artist. It may have felt inconsequential at the time, but little did we know that this was the beginning of Dylan.
Ted Russell was also at the beginning of a long career as a photojournalist during this time. A time which heralded the photographer above much else in the news. Whereas now we’re used to doctored images and altered perceptions from it, at the time photos were as close as you could get to facts. This meant that the medium was thriving but with only so much work to go around photojournalists often found themselves looking for commercial gigs.
Russell had been working regularly for LIFE magazine in New York when an opportunity from an RCA Records publicist landed at his door. The publicist hired him to photograph the label’s latest discovery of the time, Ann-Margret. While Margaret wouldn’t ripple through musical history, Russell’s next appointment would.
When the publicist moved jobs and found himself working at Columbia Records he invited Russell to take some pictures of its new artist, Bob Dylan. Russell liked the idea, he even tried to pitch the idea of an ‘up-and-coming’ folk artist to LIFE. “I wanted to do an essay on the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming folk singer trying to make it in the big city,” Russell told the NY Times. “[The LIFE editors] gave me a big yawn, not the slightest interest.”
Despite the lack of interest in that shoot, Russell ended up shooting Dylan twice more in 1963 and 1964, when he was already making fame feel entirely inconsequential.
(Images courtesy Ted Russell/Polaris/Steven Kasher Gallery, via Yahoo! News)