Charles Gatewood learned the importance of royalties the hard way.
Interviewed on Mr. Media, the photographer known for his iconic shot of Bob Dylan recalls how that 1966 pic came to be—and how he got the raw end of a deal that helped shape an entire generation.
“I had a job working in a Stockholm news agency, and after I worked there awhile they started giving me little privileges, like the key to the equipment cabinet and a press pass so I could go out and shoot things on my own and polish my skills,” he tells host Bob Andelman.
“Then, a few weeks before I shot Dylan, Martin Luther King was in town and they gave me the assignment…And I blew the assignment. I took a few pictures of Martin Luther King getting his award and shaking hands with a Swedish guy and all of a sudden it was over and they were shooing the press out the door and I wasn’t able to get up close and take the pictures I wanted.
“So when I heard Dylan was coming to town, I begged the boss for a crack at it. And he said, ‘No, you didn’t handle Martin Luther King well. Our number-one guy is gonna shoot Dylan.’
“And I said, ‘Come on, you gotta, gotta, gotta let me do this.’ So I got to go as second camera,” Charles, whose new book, A Complete Unknown—one limited-edition of which sells for $3,000—features his photos of the folk-rock legend, continues.
“Dylan was on an around-the-world tour. Like a Rolling Stone had come out the summer before and was a giant hit.
“Every time he sang, ‘How does it feel?’ I thought he was talking to me. I was an expatriate living in another country because of the Vietnam War and I didn’t have any money. I didn’t know many people.
“I was trying to figure out what I was doing with my creative energy and my life. And all of a sudden, it all came together that day.
“I shot the press conference and I shot the concert that night. And both were crowded with other photographers. Also, my skills weren’t all that polished and some of my exposures on the black-and-white film were way too heavy or way too thin. Some of the negatives didn’t look like they would print.
“But then, when I started making prints, I saw the Dylan-with-the-cigarette-and-sunglasses picture and I thought, ‘Oh boy, I got a good one here.’
“The news agency syndicated that photo…It went all over the world, and I made a few bucks.
“But shortly after that, I moved to New York and started being a professional photographer. I also had pictures of Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and some other underground celebrities of the time.
“And I sold three pictures to a poster company for $105—Dylan, Joan Baez and Ginsberg. And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be able to use them. But here’s some money. Thanks a lot.’
“A week later they were in the windows of every poster shop in Greenwich Village. And the Dylan-with-a-cigarette poster went on to sell—who knows?—hundreds of thousands of copies.
“That’s when I learned to ask for a royalty.”
To hear Charles’ full interview, click here.
To read more about A Complete Unknown, click here.