Daniel Kramer at CDS Recap

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Two weeks ago photographer Daniel Kramer and his wife Arline Cunningham visited us at the Center for Documentary Studies.  The purpose of their visit was for Dan to listen to Gene Smith’s loft tapes and hear himself chatting with Smith about Bob Dylan and photography and other topics in August 1965.  At the time of these loft recordings Dan had completed a year – 366 days – photographing Dylan.  Smith and his longtime girlfriend and professional associate Carole Thomas were attempting to launch a new journalism magazine, Sensorium, and Smith wanted to use a spread of Dan’s photographs of Dylan in the inaugural issue.

Dan had first met Gene Smith in Columbia’s Studio A in NYC on June 16, 1965 when Dylan was recording “Like a Rolling Stone.”  Dan told us:  “I noticed Gene Smith in the room and I went up to him and I said, ‘I’m a photographer and I love your work, Mr. Smith.  Thank you for doing it.’  Gene said, ‘What are you doing?’  I said, ‘I’m photographing Bob Dylan.’  Gene said, ‘Me, too.’  Then he said, ‘Gimme your name.’  I didn’t have a pen and Gene said, ‘How can you walk around without a pen?’  So from that day on I’ve always walked around with a pen.”

Smith eventually enlisted Kramer to put together a spread on Dylan for the first issue of Sensorium alongside work by Smith’s friends Henri Cartier-Bresson, Red Valens, and David Vestal, among others.  In my work and travels on JLP over the past decade, I’ve learned that the kind of impulse Smith had to include an unknown young photographer in a new venture like this – a venture Smith was staking his life and resources on at the time – is an impulse only artists have.  Maybe I should rephrase that:  Others may have the impulse, but only artists act on it.  It felt right to Smith – he liked what he’d seen of Kramer’s work – and that’s the only thing that mattered to him.

Sensorium eventually failed.  The inaugural issue never launched.  Smith’s reputation, already suffering, was in more tatters.  But he didn’t turn away from Kramer.  They had a mutual friend in photographer Philipe Halsmann who told Kramer in private: “Gene has a lot of problems.  But he still has his power.  You can trust him.”

“Gene went to bat for me after Sensorium failed.” Dan told us.  “He thought I could do it.  He thought I could finish my work on Dylan and he thought it was important enough for a major magazine spread and eventually a book.  I owe him a lot.”

Clay Felker, an old associate and correspondent of Smith’s, published Dan’s first Dylan spread in the New York Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine.  A couple of years later Dan published his book documenting Dylan for 366 days.  It was a period when Dylan went from traveling with armfuls of suitcases to traveling with 18 wheel trucks.  (Here is a link to a recent edition of Dan’s original work from that period).

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010 (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010 (C) Arline Cunningham

Dan and Arline also spent a couple of days listening to Smith’s tapes with JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge.  They told many intriguing stories.  Dan and Arline spent a lot of time with Gene and Carole.  After Gene and Carole split up in the late 1960s, Gene showed up despondent, on Dan and Arline’s doorstep.  Gene walked in with a bottle of scotch and sat at their table and told his life story and drank all night.  Dan says it never really occurred to him to turn on a tape recorder – the moment seemed too intimate.  I wish he had.

In Dan Partridge’s office one of those days two weeks ago Dan Kramer was talking about things he wanted to do, current goals, and he muttered:  “One of my problems is I don’t get out of the day everything that I should.”

The following day we were all huddled around a speaker listening to Smith’s tapes from August 1965 – me, Dan, Dan, and Arline – and suddenly on the reel we could hear Kramer, forty-five years ago, mutter to Smith, “One of my problems is I’m not…how can I explain this?  I don’t get everything out of the day that I should.”

Arline broke up laughing, and so did the rest of us.

Daniel Kramer, Sam Stephenson, Dan Partridge at CDS.  October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer, Sam Stephenson, Dan Partridge at CDS. October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

One day soon we’ll have a video clip of Daniel Kramer’s talk at CDS, edited by him for this blog.

-Sam Stephenson

Comments are closed.