News Column

Film captures photographer's remarkable career

June 7, 2013

YellowBrix

June 07--"Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits."

What's the first image that comes to mind?

You might think of songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Positively 4th Street" or some other classic. But the picture likely to come to the mind's eye is the striking, backlit shot of Dylan that appears on the cover of his first greatest hits album.

Rowland Scherman shot that. And he photographed a lot of other people and events, from Robert Kennedy to the Beatles, from the 1963 March on Washington to Woodstock.

Scherman, who lives in Orleans, is the subject of Eastham filmmaker Chris Szwedo's documentary "Eye on the 60s: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman," screening this week at the Cape Cinema in Dennis. Szwedo and/or Scherman will appear for Q-and-A sessions after some showings.

The film has a long title, but an appropriate one, and not just because photojournalist Scherman seemed to often be at the right place at the right time (and, as he says in the film, with the right lens) in order to chronicle so much of the 1960s.

It also reflects the range of this film, which not only covers Scherman's career (with a glimpse of his personality) and recalls so much of America's social, political and artistic scene of the era, but considers the purpose and importance of photojournalism.

Scherman is like the Woody Allen character Zelig in terms of his frequent brushes with history. Inspired as a young man by President Kennedy, he went to Washington, D.C., and wound up as a photographer for the Peace Corps and the Special Olympics in their infancies. He just happened to be at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 when Dylan, still a kid, became a sensation.

Scherman says in the film that he didn't have any press credentials at Newport but was carrying two cameras. "I looked like I knew what I was doing," he says, and so he was able to roam freely and get his shots. Dylan, he says, "went from zero to hero in the space of one weekend, and I happened to be there."

He worked for Life magazine and captured a young Barbara Walters as she was breaking gender barriers on the "Today" show. He covered the March on Washington, and his photos not only captured this historic event, it provided the world with photographic proof that, despite the racism rampant in the country, blacks and whites could join together in America for a common cause. Talk about the significance of photojournalism.

He traveled with Robert Kennedy on the campaign trail in 1968, though he wasn't in Los Angeles when Kennedy was assassinated. He talks in the film about how history would have changed had RFK become president -- and he's sure he would have had he lived. Scherman was there for the Beatles' first American concert, his elbows on the stage as he snapped pictures. He befriended black tennis great Arthur Ashe, whom he compares to Jackie Robinson as someone who broke the color line in sports. He shot singers Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins (who speaks warmly about Scherman in the film) in a treehouse while hanging out with them, and Crosby, Stills and Nash as the trio worked on its first album.

It's simply a remarkable series of adventures, and memories, all captured with Scherman's remarkable photos -- and, now, Szwedo's excellent film.

There's also a strong local flavor to the movie, which is shot in part on the Cape. We see Scherman taking photos recently of singer Siobhan Magnus, for instance. Monica Rizzio of the Cape band Tripping Lily sings with Daniel Byrnes of Boston during the end credits.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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