Paolo Brillo on Surreptitiously Photographing Bob Dylan's Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour
"Dylan's charisma on stage is unique"
Great photos of the Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour have been hard to come by. Bob Dylan has for years prohibited any sort of official press photographers, and venue security swoops down fast on any fan trying to get a quick iPhone snap. Starting last year, it became even harder with the introduction of Yondr pouches attendees have to lock their phone in when they enter. (And fair enough—we’ve all been at shows where someone has the flash on, or distractingly holds their phone up the entire time.)
So it was a revelation when, months into the tour—after all we’d had were the grainiest, most distant of shots—the first Paolo Brillo photo appeared. This experienced concert photographer managed, in the face of enormous obstacles, to capture images that bring the rest of us right into the room with Dylan.
With the latest leg of the tour kicking off tomorrow (Brillo says he has no plans to travel to the States for it…yet), I asked him how he manages to get these incredible shots, and about his history shooting Dylan concerts. Many of his earlier shots appeared in his book Bob Dylan: No Such Thing As Forever: Images from 30 Years of the Never Ending Tour 1989-2019.
When did you start photographing Bob Dylan concerts?
The 1984 tour of Europe with Santana. The first time I photographed him was at the Arena di Verona on May 28. I was 23 years old and Infidels had just come out. I was excited to see my idol live for the first time, but I also remember that for the first time I saw signs posted at the entrance of the arena prohibiting taking photos.
Since that day, the entrance to Dylan's concerts has always been particularly complicated. I wonder, leafing through my book, how I managed to take all these pictures.
Any favorite photos over the years (pre-Rough and Rowdy, let's say)? What makes them your favorite?
If I had to choose one shot, maybe I would choose the one in London at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 2013. The light is fantastic. It’s a very intimate picture, and what makes the photo more interesting is the presence of Baron, his bodyguard, behind Dylan's left shoulder. His image is very blurry and in shadow, difficult to notice at a superficial glance, but this is what makes his presence interesting. He is Dylan’s guardian angel, and he moves like a ghost behind him.
What are the challenges of shooting a Dylan concert?
In my opinion, he’s the most difficult artist to photograph. If a real passion doesn't burn inside of you, it wouldn't be possible to sustain the stress over such a long time. Among the issues are low light levels, forests of microphones set to make capturing images difficult, and suffocating security. Every concert is a real challenge.
But the joys of success certainly outweigh the challenges for me. Dylan's charisma on stage is unique; no other artist has this talent. He doesn't need to use fireworks on stage or invite a horny fan up to dance to excite people. Dylan just needs a look, a smile, a hand that touches his lips to send a kiss to hypnotize his audience. If you carefully examine the photographs that portray him, in particular the close-ups of his face, you understand exactly his state of mind. It can convey serenity, love, sadness and also threats — especially when he sees me photographing him. It is really exciting to try to capture the magnetism of his gaze in a photo.
When late in the evening, in the solitude of your hotel room, exhausted yet still full of adrenaline, you download the card on your laptop and you realize you have taken a good photo, the joy is overwhelming.
Our conversation continues after the jump. Paid subscribers will also get a number of exclusive morning-after dispatches from Dylan’s upcoming U.S. tour, both from me and special guest contributors, as well as access to a private Discord chat that tends to be jumping with reviews and recordings when Bob’s on tour. Sign up below:
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