Memories of shooting stars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am

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He helped Bob Dylan sell millions of records by taking the photograph for the Grammy award-winning cover for his Greatest Hits album, but when Rowland Scherman met the folk singer, he didn't even get a thank you.

Scherman is in Hong Kong this week because he donated two prints to the new Hard Rock Cafe in Lan Kwai Fong, one of the Dylan image.

At 74, he has come to accept the cool reception he received from Dylan, tempered by dozens of fond memories during his career as a photojournalist in the 1960s.

The New York native was just 27 when he took the picture of Dylan at a concert in Washington that would win him a Grammy in 1968 for best album cover.

'Me and the wife had great seats but I could see the light was coming from a different direction and it looked more interesting from the reverse angle.

'The back light was hitting his hair and it was so simple and perfect, it took me just moments to do it. I took them up to New York to Columbia Records and the art director said 'that's the next cover'.'

Years later he met Dylan, but it did not go as he expected.

'I know he's got to guard himself, but I thought I could get a handshake at least. We just talked for a little while and I didn't see him again.'

Before the Dylan cover, Scherman landed a dream job as the first photographer with the Peace Corps, which allowed him to travel the world, and one of the first stops was Hong Kong in 1962.

'I saw the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen in my life. I was all by myself, walking on a hill and nobody was around. I walked to the top of the hill and it was just me and this girl, all alone. I didn't have the courage to say anything and so it's a bittersweet thing.

'I did photograph 50,000 boats tied together in the harbour but I'm not sure if they are still there.'

One item that he still has from that trip is something he sees every day: his Rolex.

'I've never taken it off and it's never stopped,' he said. 'Back in those days, Hong Kong was the shopping paradise of the universe. It was tax free and HK$5 to the US dollar.'

In the 1960s, he landed a job as a freelance photographer with Life magazine, covering high-profile figures such as John Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Some of his most treasured images feature rock icons of the era, including The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash.

'It's almost historic as well as artistic,' he said of his work.

The other image that Scherman is donating is one of The Beatles at their first concert in the United States.

He recalled the after-concert party at the British embassy: 'Someone had scissors and clipped off some of George's hair and that wasn't one of the teenage fans, it was one of the diplomats' wives. I met Ringo who was very charming and John Lennon was acting like a crazy man.'

Now in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Scherman's life is much tamer, with children's portraits taking up most of his time.