‘Bob isn’t being Woody; I’m sensing more James Dean’: Remembering the pre-fame Bob Dylan

John Cohen, a photographer who took a series of pre-fame pictures of Bob Dylan, says he knew from the first that there would be more to Bob Dylan than the legacy sounds of folk and old blues.

Dylan arrived for the 1962 shoot, Cohen says in a newly posted video, having not yet issued his celebrated self-titled debut. They worked both in Cohen’s loft, and on his rooftop — often in silence.

Cohen might suggest a certain pose, perhaps in honor of Dylan’s hero Woody Guthrie, but otherwise they didn’t discuss much. Yet, Cohen — also a musician, he’s a member of the New Lost City Ramblers — says he began to have a realization, one that’s stuck with him.

“I began to see,” Cohen says, “Bob isn’t being Woody; I’m sensing more James Dean — and the contemporary, pent-up feelings that young people were having at that time. It had nothing to do with folk music. That was a big revelation for me — though, again, we didn’t talk about it.”

Photographs from this treasure trove were displayed in April at Tulsa’s newly opened Woody Guthrie Center, during a special exhibit. A book of Cohen’s photograph is set for publication later this summer.

“Bob’s office didn’t even want to use these pictures, because it didn’t suit Bob at the beginning,” Cohen adds. “So these things sat in my drawer for about 20 years. … I didn’t set out to document Bob Dylan, but it worked out.”

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