From the Amazon to Camden Town
It was the morning of July 21st 1993 when I got a call from Dave Stewart. He sounded excited but in his characteristically laidback manner told me Bob Dylan had called him at 4am wanting him to film and direct a video for one of the tracks of his new forthcoming Album ‘World Gone Wrong’, and he asked me if I could come along and shoot some stills.
48 hours before, I had been in the heart of the Colombian Amazon on a photo and personal journey I had undertaken on my own – I guess Dave is right to say I am fearless!
I still had the musty smell of the jungle and my photo equipment was in a plastic milk canteen I had used as a photo bag. This was a preventative measure so that my photo equipment would float in the event we overturned in any of the small canoe journeys through the small islands in the swamps of the Amazon River.
I was still in bed when Dave called so I got up quickly and transformed my photo bag into a ‘first world package’, took a taxi, got some film, and went straight to Dave’s recording studio in Crouch End, The Church Studios. It was there that Dave introduced me to Bob Dylan.
I remember his handshake was faint, as someone who, understandably, is reluctant to commit himself socially. However, he was attentive and acutely aware with a distinct sense of duty to the work ahead of us.
We set off to Camden lock where Dave started filming, operating one of the two 8mm cameras by himself and steering the project with ease. It felt no different than just being with two youngsters experimenting with music and image through the urban streets of Camden Town.
Dylan was clearly focused and ‘in character’ acting out all the time his very personal meaning of the video’s song ‘Blood in My Eyes’. Dave was similarly concentrated, armed with one of his many virtues; being able to utilise everything and everyone around him with natural ease while making it fabulous fun all along.
The first shots were done on the Lock, where the curious onlookers started gathering slowly and Dave, (as only he can do), recruited them to be part of the video and escort Dylan across bridges and paths, to perform juggling acts and support; at one point even recruiting a German Shepherd carrying a stick in his mouth who proudly paraded on a lead with Dylan. All along, Dylan stood out underneath his top hat, but strangely, at the same time blended in perfectly with the surroundings.
From there, we moved along the main high street, the passers by became followers and a crowd of autograph hunters was steadily gaining momentum.
Bob signed autographs kindly but never for a moment came out of his film role. He engaged with the enthusiastic autograph seekers whilst remaining somehow detached, but clearly present in a world of his own, committed to the duty of acting out the song for the video.
The day progressed with ease and we walked in to a café where Dylan sat at a table by the window, sometimes by himself and at other times with several volunteers who had appointed themselves as extras, while Dave was shooting away. All along, there were little moments of interaction as if they were tacitly steering the direction of the filming. It was one of the shots I took in this location that was to become the Album cover image for ‘World Gone Wrong’.
We then continued shooting along Camden’s main street, with our small army of followers, in front of souvenir shops, zebra crossings, Hair Dressers and Barber Shops, slowly covering the length of the High Street.
We stopped at another café and this time Dylan took up position at a table by the sidewalk. As the waitresses engaged in conversation with Dylan, a passing busker joined Bob and Dave at the table.
We later ended up at Dave’s houseboat, which was moored at the Lock, and we set up an impromptu film set, with lights and everything in a space of not much more than a square meter. One of these still shots is also featured on the inside sleeve of ‘World Gone Wrong’.
The filming came to an end and we headed back to The Church Studios in Crouch End. We all needed to wind down but particularly Dylan, who surely deserved his own space to shed the persona he had adopted throughout the entire day’s shooting.
When Dylan reappeared a little later, Dave asked one of the engineers at the studio to bring along a guitar to a small room next to the kitchen. The guitar arrived and was handed to me, at which point, Dave announced to Bob that I would play and sing for him. Dave went outside and I was then left in this room – just Dylan, the guitar and me. I shyly sang a song, in Spanish or Portuguese, to which he listened attentively and responded with compliments and an egoless charm, demonstrating a true interest and love of all types of music – something I was to confirm years later through listening to some of his Radio shows.
By now it was nighttime and we decided to go for a meal at a local Indian Restaurant in Crouch End. As we walked there, Dylan was interested to hear some of the chronicle of my Amazon journey. Again he listened with interest and care. I was sitting directly across from him at the table and I remember at one point he stretched forward towards me and with his distinctive husky voice, said to me… “I have two daughters – one is called Anna and the other Maria”.
We finished dinner at about 11pm and Dave & I went straight to Joe’s Basement, a 24-hour photo lab in Soho, to develop the films. We asked for an express service, then walked the few blocks to Dave’s flat in Covent Garden. In less than an hour we returned to pick up the photographs. Dylan left the next morning for LA, and Dave flew out one day after, taking the photos with him. A few days later, I learned that Bob had chosen one of the Café photos to be used as the cover shot for the “World Gone Wrong” album and also, one of the barge photos for the inner sleeve.
Nearly twenty years later, what strikes me most, is the spontaneity of the occasion and how Dylan and Dave managed to create some form out of a free and potentially chaotic situation. Perhaps some of Dylan’s greatness relies on an ability to engage and detach in equal measure with whatever is happening around him, and in so doing, opening himself to the possibility of creative inspiration from everyday, seemingly trivial events.
Photography has been a constant in my life since my mid teens, and something that started as a play with visuals, perspective and the magic chemistry of the darkroom, has become my vault of memories.
People ask me what has taken me so long to share these photographs with the world. Partly I have had other priorities, but the truth is that I have held all my photos close to me, like a special personal treasure – the same way that people keep wine in a cellar – and now I feel they are ready to be tasted.
Dave, thank you for making me part of this and so many other special moments of your life.
Ana María Vélez Wood – London, September 2012