Photographer Ken Regan, best known for his iconic shots of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix, has died of cancer. Regan succumbed to the illness on November 25th. He had continued to work until he was sidelined by the disease earlier this year. Regan was Bob Dylan's official photographer and has amassed tens of thousands of shots of him, the vast majority of which remain unpublished.
Regan will be remembered as one of the most influential photojournalists in the medium's history. His style of photography has an almost unparalleled ability to capture intimacy in the midst of chaos, characterised not only in his music shots but also in his vast portfolio of sports and war photography.
Regan was a first-hand witness to some of the twentieth century's most astounding moments. He captured the moment Ali delivered a knockout blow to George Foreman, he was one of a handful of journalists permitted to travel on the train which delivered Robert Kennedy's body to Arlington Cemetery (he was a close personal friend of the Kennedy family). Regan photographed The Beatles' 1965 US tour, snapped both The Last Waltz and Live Aid and even the moment Bob Dylan met a young Bruce Springsteen for the first time backstage at a show in 1975.
Ken Regan came to Dublin in May of 2009 for an exhibition of his work in Gallery Number One for an exhibition of his music photography. I asked for, and was granted, an interview with Regan during his exhibition. After meeting him and shaking his hand I was struck by his overwhelming friendliness and it soon became obvious that the man's gentle personality was the key to him being given unparalleled access to the likes of Dylan, Jagger, Richards and co. His personality was calming and friendly, important prerequisites to a career in fly-on-the-wall photography.
When I retreated to an office in the back of the gallery with Ken, what was meant to be a brief 5 or 10 minute interview soon sprawled into an epic 35 minute discussion covering every aspect of his career. He recounted (in glorious, painstaking detail) some of the more lofty moments from his career as I - the massive Dylan fan - pressed him for details, information, anything, about the famously introverted singer.
My favourite nugget of information? The cover shot to Dylan's 1976 album Desire was shot by Regan. In the image the notoriously image conscious musician is smirking, in direct contradiction to the persona he had portrayed for the majority of his career up to that point. I pressed Regan on this. Why was Dylan smiling?
The answer was delightful in its simplicity: Dylan has just been to Jack Kerouac's grave and then to a thrift store where he bought the jacket you see him wearing. And he really, really liked it.
Some highlights from the interview:
Was Dylan a willing subject?
Well he'd always been reclusive but I had total access. I could walk into his dressing room at any given point and photograph anything he was doing. You were never allowed to photograph his kids though. He did actually allow one photographer many years ago to do this and this guy sold the pictures and Bob cut him out. I have a big locked file in my office, with a skull on it that says 'Do Not Enter' for pictures like this.
On being Dylan's official photographer
He (Dylan) asked me to come out to Telluride, Colorado a few years ago and I took pictures there. I had been travelling for a while at this point and I had maybe two hours sleep. I was fried. So I went to the hotel room to get some sleep. After a while I hear a knock at the door and it's Bob and he wanted me to go out with him to a bar that Butch and Sundance used to hang out in. I grabbed my camera and went out. It was a beautiful setting, outdoors with mountains in the background. Right after the concert that night we were told to pack up real quick because we had to get to Arizona. I was packing up and one of the roadies comes up to us and tells Bob that he's needed right away. I catch up with Bob a little while later and ask him what's going on. "You’re not going to believe this", he says. "Guess who's here?" There had been a rumour all day that Eric Clapton was going to play with him, so I asked him if it was Clapton. Bob just smiled and said "No. Norman Schwarzkopf."
He was sitting out in the audience and he asked someone if he could come backstage and meet him. Bob turns to Suzie, his assistant, and says "get my best hat!" So Schwarzkopf comes out and here are two icons from totally opposite ends of the world and he's going on and on about how he loves the music. "Bob", he says, "I just want to say something to you. The Times They Are A-Changin' was the most prolific song that was written in the 20th Century". I almost fell over dead. I took all these pictures of Bob and Norman together. We've never released them.
All images copyright Ken Regan/Camera 5