Bob Dylan unguarded, Italy's incomparable light and the life's work of a photographer

A photo of Bob Dyland
A photo of Bob Dylan
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo of Bob Dylan
A photo of Bob Dylan
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo featuring Bob Dylan
A photo featuring Bob Dylan
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo of Bob Dylan
A photo of Bob Dylan
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo from Italy
A photo from Italy
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo from Italy
A photo from Italy
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection
A photo from the collection
A photo from the collection
Image Credit: Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection

It's hard to fathom now, but in 1964 a collection of photos of Bob Dylan that largely captured the enigmatic music legend in unguarded behind-the-scenes moments rather than on stage was deemed by the editors of Look magazine as inappropriate to publish.

"Too scruffy for a family magazine," was the pronouncement to young photographer Douglas R. Gilbert when he presented his proposed layout.

Now, those rare Dylan images and thousands more are in the possession of the Grand Valley Art Gallery, a gift of unprecedented magnitude for a Grand Valley photography collection.

Gilbert, who grew up in Holland now lives in the Grand Haven area, had been searching for the right place to house his life's work, especially as he continued to lose his eyesight, a complication of glaucoma. He classifies his vision loss now at about 90 percent.

"Now, having made this move to the university, it has been really satisfying," Gilbert said. "I really felt like I was at the end of something anyway."

The Douglas R. and Barbara E. Gilbert Collection is the largest, most comprehensive collection of photographic images the university has received, said Nathan Kemler, interim director of Grand Valley's Galleries and Collections. 

The gift includes prints, negatives and slides, along with personal items such as letters to help fully understand Gilbert and the collection. Community members, with notice, can see the pieces at the Engagement Lab within the newly created Art Storage Facility on Winter Avenue NW in Grand Rapids. 

"A gift like this for Grand Valley is a way for us to see the complete human story of the artist. Having the volume of work tells the nuances of life," Kemler said. "It's not often that institutions have this kind of depth in a collection."

Gilbert's work with Look magazine, a publication known for its acclaimed photography that closed in 1972, not only included the Dylan photos but also images of celebrities ranging from Carol Burnett to Simon and Garfunkel just as the smash "Bridge Over Troubled Water" hit the charts. 

His work in New York also included groundbreaking photography at a school that would go on to become the Association for Metro Area Autistic Children; those photos will be on display at the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health, which opens in May 2021. His images also have appeared in dozens of exhibitions, several books and publications, including Life and Time.

Meanwhile, his images captured during trips to Italy over a 10-year period are among his personal favorites and are the subject of a Grand Valley Art Gallery exhibition that runs through June 19 at the Blue Wall Gallery at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

More more information about Gilbert and his work, visit douglasrgilbert.com.