The night a Union professor secretly photographed Bob Dylan

A Catholic nun assisted area photographer in his quest to get photos
Bob Dylan points to heaven during a show at the Palace in April 1980.
Bob Dylan points to heaven during a show at the Palace in April 1980.

Photographer, Union College professor and West Saugerties native (transplanted to Niskayuna) Martin Benjamin goes WAY back with Bob Dylan.

Benjamin was in his teens when he spotted Dylan, then living in Woodstock, going into the Woodstock post office; he turned around and went back inside just for a glimpse of the star.

Benjamin was at the Palace when Dylan played two nights there in April 1980. Dylan had forbidden photos of the shows, so Benjamin had a friend, photographer and Catholic nun Carlotta Duarte from Boston, help sneak in his gear. In one shot that’s as good as this back-story, Dylan holds up a guitar and points to heaven. (He was singing the Christian songs that would appear on his “Saved” album that summer; many nuns and clergy got in free.)

After the first night’s show Benjamin developed the film and made prints. He’d carefully shot Dylan with every member of his band, including the woman singer Dylan was secretly married to then. After the second show, Benjamin took the prints to the Best Western Hotel where he’d heard Dylan’s band was staying. In the bar he gave band members photos showing each of them onstage with Dylan.

As he’d hoped, a band member took him aside and quietly told him Dylan was staying at the (now vanished) Wellington on State Street. Benjamin rushed to the Wellington and staked out the lobby. Around 3 a.m., Dylan and his bodyguard walked off the elevator into the lobby. Benjamin held up his camera and asked to take a photo as Dylan walked by, head turned away.

Dylan said, “Why do you want my picture anyway?”

When Benjamin stated, “Because I saw your shows the last two nights, and they were incredible.” Dylan stopped.

“You liked them?”

With that they conversed about West Saugerties and Benjamin gave Dylan a large print of the pointing-to-heaven shot. 

This photo is included in the new SONY release “Trouble No More.” Dylan Bootleg Series #13. It collects his music from 1979  to 1981 and was released on Nov. 3.

Categories: Entertainment

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