In this exclusive interview, Paolo's shares a selection of his photographs and thoughts on what makes Bob Dylan just so special.
When did you start taking photos? I started taking photos when I was 17 years old. I remember the moment very well. It was during my first visit to London and my father lent me his Voigtgländer camera. I was very proud to walk on the streets of London with this camera around my neck!
What was the first band you ever photographed? It was in 1981 in Bolzano, the town where I was born and live. Happy Traum had stopped in town for a gig with his friend John James.
Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2015 by Paolo Brillo
Who is you favourite musician to photograph? It may seem like an obvious answer but it's the truth, the artist I prefer to photograph is Bob Dylan. Dylan's charisma on stage is unique, no other artist has this talent. It is really exciting to try to capture the magnetism of his gaze in a photo. To electrify his audience, Dylan doesn't have to dance on stage, he doesn't have to invite pretty girls to dance with him or other shit like that, a simple gesture and his magnetic gaze is enough to grab attention and provoke a reaction in his audience. Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall is the best combination for me! I love that venue so much!
What is it about Bob Dylan that makes him so special to you? Bob Dylan is the greatest American songwriter of the 20th Century. I began listening to Dylan’s music at the age of fifteen. Initially I was inspired by his music, and then I was fascinated by his incredible lyrics. Dylan has managed to blend music and literature together in a way that no other artist has been able to do and he understood immediately what music and literature could do to the human soul and mind.
I have always been hypnotised by him being a chameleon, I mean the ability to change, to transform himself, to reinvent himself. There is so much “Another Side(s) of Bob Dylan”: folk poet, protest singer, bluesman, electric rock ’n’ roller, country crooner, born-again, radio dj, whiskey producer, sculptor. It would take too many pages to explain why Bob Dylan is so special to me and that's why I summarise it all in one word, he is genius! What does “genius” mean? Listen to his last album “Rough and Rowdy Ways”! When many in the world of music had counted Bob Dylan down and out, he has been able to deliver an album of such quality and depth that vaults him both to the top of the charts and the critically acclaimed list.
Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2013 by Paolo Brillo
What is your favourite shot that you have taken of Bob? This isn’t an easy question, it depends on the mood of the day. If I had to choose one shot maybe I would choose the one taken in London at 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.
Bob Dylan, Rome, Italy, 2015 by Paolo Brillo
How did the book come about? The first time I photographed Dylan was in 1984 at his first concert at the Arena di Verona. I was 23 at the time and Infidels, the record produced by Mark Knopfler, had just come out. Since then I have seen and photographed him several times, especially in the last decade.
I had been dreaming of the idea of publishing a book dedicated to Bob Dylan for several years and, despite having had many requests, the project never materialised because my starting point was to create a product of high typographic quality. This means higher production costs and, since publishing in Italy is not going through a good time from an economic-financial point of view, I have not found publishers who wanted to take the risk of publishing a product which, despite having a theme of the greatest artist of the century, was still destined for a niche audience.
I had temporarily abandoned the idea but about two years ago, thanks to my collaboration with Derek and Tracy Barker, editors of ISIS, the magazine dedicated to Bob Dylan, I was contacted by Mark Neeter. Mark is the founder of Red Planet Books, a British publishing house specialising in music books. His proposal immediately convinced me and so we started the project that led to the publication of my book last year.
Who or what inspires you? I am inspired by the energy and beauty of music, and my love of photography. I like any kind of photography, not only music photography but also portrait, landscape, nature and street photography. Nothing inspires me more than producing an authentic image that captures the intensity and emotion of the moment I’m living.
Bob Dylan, Hammersmith Apollo, London, 2011 by Paolo Brillo
Do you have any advice for an aspiring rock photographer? If by rock photography you mean live photography, a piece of advice I would give is to use a high-performance camera that allows you to shoot even in poor light conditions. Don’t use flash light!! It is very important to know the camera perfectly, I mean to know how to handle it and change settings in the dark and in a quick time. A couple of seconds of delay can make you lose a great shot! There’s definitely a synchronicity between music and photography and if you can feel it you will get “the moment” and take a great image.
I work exclusively in manual and instead of the light meter I use my sight; after years of photographing Bob Dylan I know exactly what settings to shoot before I even enter the concert.
Finally, it is important to know the artist you go to photograph and if possible his setlist in order to predict what the scenography and the light could be. Youtube can help to study the artist and his set and to understand wich is the best position to shoot.
What makes a great music photo? There are many elements in the traditional photography that come together to make an image be considered “great”. The lighting, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, and colour all work well together to add interest and a great deal of composition in photographs. In a great music photo there is something more: a great music photo is one that spurs the memory to play the music inside your head, it brings the music to life and when you can see it and hear it that means you are in front of a great photo!