Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Double Elvis to Woodstock - The Story


I was commissioned about a year ago to see if I could locate a specific photo taken during (actually, after) Dylan's visit to Andy Warhol's Factory in 1965.

After Dylan's "screen test" that day he was either given or appropriated (dependent on the teller) a Warhol silk screen , known as either a "Silver Elvis" or "Double Elvis." According to Warhol, he "gave" an Elvis to Dylan, Other accounts have Dylan and Warhol kind of doing a "you're cool, man," "no you're cooler, man" potlatch dance around each other that ended with Warhol reluctantly giving the Elvis away. Still other accounts have Dylan saying "I'll take that (the double Elvis) as payment [for the screen test]," and Dylan's crew, which included Bobby Neuwirth and Victor Maymudes (sometimes spelled as Maimudes), hustling the painting down the freight elevator before anyone in Warhol's camp could object.
Andy: I liked Dylan, the way he created a brilliant new style... I even gave him one of my silver Elvis paintings in the days when he was first around. Later on, though, I got paranoid when I heard rumors that he had used the Elvis as a dart board up in the country. When I'd ask, 'Why did he do that?' I'd invariably get hearsay answers like 'I hear he feels you destroyed Edie [Sedgwick],' or 'Listen to Like a Rolling Stone - I think you're the 'diplomat on the chrome horse,' man.' I didn't know exactly what they meant by that - I never listened much to the words of songs - but I got the tenor of what people were saying - that Dylan didn't like me, that he blamed me for Edie's drugs.
Some accounts have the Dylan station wagon as red, other as blue. Almost everyone agrees that Dylan's people strapped the even-then extremely valuable painting to the top of the car and drove off. As noted above, reports eventually floated back to Warhol that Dylan had thrown the Elvis in a closet, had hung it upside down, or was using it as dart board, all apparently designed to show his disdain for Warhol. All accounts - including from Dylan himself - have him later trading the Elvis to his manager Albert Grossman for a sofa/couch. Grossman's widow, Sally, later sold the painting at auction for a reported $750,000.
Bob: I once traded an Andy Warhol "Elvis Presley" painting for a sofa, which was a stupid thing to do. I always wanted to tell Andy what a stupid thing I done, and if he had another painting he would give me, I'd never do it again.
The photo was described to me as one or two people from Dylan's posse (Bobby Neuwirth probably being one of them) tying the painting to the top of a station wagon. The shot appeared to have been taken from one of the Factory windows - several floors up - shooting down at the top of the station wagon. But, the person who commissioned me warned me she had only had the photo described to her and her description was probably off. There was also a possibility that the photo didn't even exist, or was faked. One person I spoke to was convinced that it was probably a staged publicity shot taken for the "Factory Girl" bio pic.

Research indicated that if the photo existed, the most likely candidates to have taken it were Nat Finkelstein, Gerard Malanga, or Billy Name. But given the time and the atmosphere, nearly everyone in Warhol's camp shot photographs, and it could have been anyone in the crowd who was there that day. There was a slight possibility that Barbara Rubin, who was filming footage of Dylan that day and who was the person who brought Dylan to the Factory, might have taken the shot.

I won't bore you with details of my ongoing year-long research efforts, which was mostly sending email, making phone calls and either not getting any response or getting answers that confused the issue even more. Suffice to say that the Warhol Museum had never heard of the photo. First-hand accounts by people who were there had Nat Finkelstein following Dylan out at ground level shooting photographs all the while, and Gerard Malanga watching - and possibly photographing - from a window, indicating that Malanga had probably taken the photo I was looking for. But Gerard Malanga's representatives told me that the photo was taken by Billy Name. Name, who now runs a goat farm in upstate New York, said it wasn't his and he didn't know the source. Barbara Rubin told me she suspected Nat Finkelstein was the photographer.

In fact, all the evidence kept building to point at Finkelstein, who was the author of almost all the published photos from that day. While I had a slew of Finkelstein contacts/representatives, I wasn't getting any responses from any of them. I finally found a very obscure personal email address for Finkelstein and sent off a message. I got a one-line response from him...

"I have it." 

... and weirdly, he attached a photo of a street scene which fit the basic description, except there wasn't any station wagon and no one tying anything to the top of a car. Some further back-and-forth with Nat convinced me he did have the photo - had cropped the station wagon out from the copy he sent - but, that for his own reasons, wasn't going to talk with an intermediary about it. So, I passed on his contact info to my client along with my belief that Nat had the photo, and closed the book on the project.

A few weeks later, Nat Finkelstein passed away. Out of curiosity, I contacted my client and asked if she had been successful in getting the photo. She replied she hadn't, had had a few exchanges with Finkelstein's wife, had been sent some contact sheets from that day, but the photo wasn't part of the group.

More months passed, and I received an email from a research forum where I had posted what info I had about the photo almost a year earlier. An intern from a Tucson, Arizona gallery wrote a message eerily similar to Nat Finkelstein's ,

"We have it."

And indeed they did. You can see a reproduction of the photo above. Look in the lower right corner above the copyright and you can see the station wagon with the Double Elvis strapped on top. Dylan is chatting with Barbara Rubin behind the car. I contacted my client, and yep, that was the photo she was looking for.


I spoke to Eric Firestone, owner of the Firestone Gallery, who was displaying the station wagon photo. He indicated that the photo was vintage - that is, from 1965 direct from Nat Finkelstein's archives rather than a print - and has some slight damage.  Firestone also brought up the intriguing information that he had access to the complete roll of film that Finkelstein shot that day and - with the permission of Finkelstein's estate and for the right price - could have a contact sheet printed up that would be a document of Dylan's visit from entrance to departure.I passed all that information on to my client, collected my check and closed the book on the whereabouts of the photo.

But now I was curious what had happened to the Double Elvis and wondered if  I could track its  current provenance.  I knew, if the story was true, that Bob Dylan had traded it to Albert Grossman for what could be considered the world's most expensive couch. Grossman definitely had taken ownership, whatever the deal. After he passed away, his widow, Sally Grossman, sold it through Sotheby's to a private collector.

There are several versions of the Warhol Double Elvis in existence, itself part of a series of single, triple, even more prints taken from a publicity photo of Elvis in "Flaming Star," a film in which the singer-actor played a "half-white, half-Native American struggling between two cultures."  However, there was one print, now in residence at MoMa in New York City, that closely resembled the one seen in the background with Dylan and Warhol.

As I suspected, its the one in MoMa's collection, its provenance confirmed by their Office of the Registrar from Bob Dylan to Albert and Sally Grossman to a Long Island real estate developer, a Jerry Spiegel, who eventually donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 2001.

There is no evidence of dart holes according to MoMa.

It's currently not on exhibit, (apparently the last time it was exhibited was in 2007), but at some point in the future it might be possible to visit New York City, go to MoMa and reflect on the history of the Double Elvis that has had a long strange trip from NYC to Los Angeles, back to New York, to Woodstock and to Long Island, and eventually back home to New York City.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who Took This Photo of Bob Dylan?

In July of of 2010, I was commissioned to discover the name of the photographer - and, if possible locate the original photograph, of this photo of Bob Dylan. The photograph was used as the cover for a mono EP - CBS EP 6270 (France) released in March, 1966.

A larger, digitally remastered version of the photo with titling removed was used as an insert for a 1993 bootleg titled, "Squaring the Circle."

Taken July 25, 1965 at Newport?

Based on contemporary images, I thought the photo was probably taken on the afternoon of July 25, 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival. There are several other photos of Dylan wearing the same green shirt with white polka-dots that afternoon. Al Kooper wore the same (or a similar) shirt that evening during the famous "electric" concert.

While several people I contacted opined that the photo used on the EP was colorized, there were several contemporary reports noting that the infamous polka-dot shirt was indeed green. Al Kooper confirmed that the shirt in question was in fact green, although he refused to elaborate on why Dylan was wearing it in the afternoon and Kooper wore it in in the evening. I had one person who is familiar with pre-Photoshop colorization take a look at it, and given that he was only examining a scan, he was of the opinion that it had not been colorized, but was an actual color photo

It appeared that the photo was posed (Dylan is holding two walkie-talkies and staring straight at the photographer), which indicated that he knew - or at least was comfortable with - the person taking the shot. Almost all other photos of him taken during that day were spontaneously captured and taken from several yards away.

***

 What I Discovered

I knew that the album cover appears in the Getty Image Bank site and the photographer is mistakenly credited as the "Blank Archives." I talked to archivist Mitch Blank and he didn''t know the identity of the photographer.

Bob Dylan's business office didn't know who took the photo.

I spoke to or corresponded with the following people (or their representatives) and they did not take the photo nor had further information on it.

Dr. John Rudoff
Diana Davies
Bob Gruen
Barry Feinstein
Jonathan Taplin
Al Kooper
Dick Waterman


I wasn't able to get a definitive response from photographer David Gahr's estate.  While Gahr was taking photos during the afternoon sound check, I couldn't find any evidence that he was shooting in color that day. A review of the known David Gahr photos from Newport 1965 indicated that this photo is not in the Gahr "style" and I felt confident of eliminating him as a possibility.

I spoken to an archivist at the Smithsonian who had collated all known photos of Dylan in their collection. She related that the Smithsonian did not have the photo nor did she any information about it.

The Mystery Solved

After publicizing this site on several Dylan-related news sites and forums, a collector sent me a scan of the EP's back cover, which credited the photo to a "Bernard Gidel." A Google Search uncovered M. Gidel's contact information and after a short time, I received the following email from him...

(I should note, M. Gidel's email was in French and my French is a bit rusty, so some of the syntax is a bit off).


"...Yes. I am the author of the photo that shows the beautiful green shirt with white dots of Bob Dylan. This photo is a slide (Kodachrome color slide) and was used for the cover of a 45 rpm record (EP) in France. It seems to me that at the time the USA did not use photo cover sleeves.

With my friend Louis Skorecki, we had been sent by a large press organization to observe what was most modern in the U.S. in 1965. We were very young and happy to meet so many artists and creative innovators.

We contacted Albert Grossman, who trusted us (because we were young and French?) And we obtained accreditation for the Newport Folk Festival. He also allowed us to attend a recording session for the album "Highway 61 Revisited", in which Bob Dylan questioned us about the state of French music. He seemed particularly interested in Francoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan, two attractive singers then in vogue in France: ...

Without being intimates of Bob Dylan, we were accepted by his team and I could photograph without restriction. In Newport, the photo with the green shirt was taken just before he lent me his room to make a telephone call.

At the evening concert, Dylan was wearing a red shirt and a black leather jacket. I also took color photos of that and one of those photos was used for another EP also released in France..."


M. Gidel went on to note that he had turned over all of negatives of Dylan over to CBS France, being as he writes, "...very young" and simply happy that they were interested in using his work.  The second photograph he mentions was also used as the cover for another French EP.  I contacted Sony France, which now controls the CBS France archives but, unfortunately all the photos and negatives had long ago disappeared from their archives.


Fred Bals
dreamtimepodcast@gmail.com

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