How a 56-Year-Old Photo Wound Up on the Cover of Bob Dylan’s New LP
The photo on the cover of Bob Dylan’s upcoming LP, Rough and Rowdy Ways, was snapped more than 50 years ago by a man who is, admittedly, not all that familiar with the musician.
“Like most photographers, I’m a visual guy,” 86-year-old photographer Ian Berry tells Rolling Stone via phone from his home in Salisbury, England. “I have, though, spent quite a lot of time with people like Miriam Makeba, but most of the profiles I’ve done on musicians have been more classical, people like [David] Ashkenazi.”
Still, when he received an email asking for permission to use the image, he was flattered. “I was delighted,” he says. “A record cover for Dylan is a great compliment.”
The Sixties-era photo shows a well-dressed couple dancing in a club while a man leans over to examine a jukebox behind them. None of their faces are visible, but the image crackles with intrigue and romance.
Berry took the photo at a long-defunct underground club on Cable Street in the East London town of Whitechapel when he was on assignment for the Observer, photographing images for an article about black culture in England. “I was working quickly, and in very poor light, shooting away with a 35-millimeter camera,” he says. “I knew at some point I’d have to leave because I hadn’t asked permission to be there.”
He doesn’t remember what sort of music the couple was dancing to when he captured the moment on film, but he does remember being drawn to the woman. “I’ve always been very into women,” he says. “I’ve been married three times. The lady had a good figure. And I liked the juxtaposition with the jukebox.”
After about 15 or 20 minutes of taking photos, the patrons in the club had had enough of the camera-wielding stranger. “There were crates of beer bottles near the entrance and people started throwing beer bottles at me, so I left,” he says. “It’s something that happens a lot to photographers in different parts of the world, but I think it’s the only time it happened in England to me.”
Today, Berry’s vast archive is controlled by the agency Magnum Photos. They previously made a deal with the Dylan camp for Bruce Davidson’s 1959 photograph of a young couple making out in a car, which appeared on the cover of 2009’s Together Through Life. (Dylan hasn’t used a photograph of himself on an album cover of original songs since 2001’s Love and Theft.)
Magnum made the deal for this one as well, although they reached out to Berry before finalizing anything. “It was originally a black and white picture, obviously, and they wanted to check if it was okay by me to put a color tint on it,” he says. “I didn’t mind at all.”
Although Berry isn’t that familiar with Dylan’s music, his wife is a huge fan. “She’s more enthusiastic than I am [about the cover],” he says. “But of course I’ve regularly listened to ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and so forth, but they are her records rather than mine. I like the sort of singers where I can actually hear the words, people like Joan Armatrading or Joan Baez.”
Rough and Rowdy Ways drops June 19. Three songs from the project have been released so far: “False Prophet,” “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes.”