Photographer David Gahr captured some of the most iconic album covers of the postwar era, spanning from Miles Davis' A Tribute to Jack Johnson to Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. He is nevertheless best known for documenting Bob Dylan's epochal electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Born in Milwaukee on September 18, 1922, Gahr -- the son of Russian immigrants -- grew up in a largely African-American neighborhood, which he credited for instilling his life-long passion for the blues and jazz. After earning his Master's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Gahr served in Europe during World War II -- he later studied for a PhD in political science at Columbia University, but abandoned his thesis to marry and start a family. A retail job at a Sam Goody record store in New York City brought Gahr into contact with myriad musicians; in time he began snapping their photographs, discovering a talent and passion for the camera so great that he turned down an opportunity to write about economics as a staffer for The New Republic. "I became a professional photographer on the morning my son, Seth, was born," Gahr later told the magazine F.Y.I., the in-house publication of Time-Life, for whom he completed more than 2,000 assignments. The launch of his career coincided with the birth of the folk music revival, and he and his camera soon emerged as fixtures of the Greenwich Village circuit, documenting virtually every significant figure and moment of the period.
With his bawdy humor, garrulous personality, and omnipresent cigar, Gahr established an instant rapport with his subjects. His intense affection for music guaranteed he captured his subjects in flattering, sometimes reverential contexts, and his particular expertise with posed shots and skillful employment of natural light translated to images of startling intimacy. Gahr was such close friends with Bob Dylan that when the singer/songwriter began planning to play his first-ever electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the photographer was the sole individual outside of Dylan's inner circle to know what was coming. The resulting photographs remain the definitive images of the still-controversial performance. (Gahr continued photographing Dylan throughout his life, capping off his career by snapping the cover to the singer's acclaimed 2001 set Love and Theft.) Gahr's photos of folk and blues icons including Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Phil Ochs, Mary Travers, Johnny Cash, and Sonny Terry were compiled in 1968 in the book The Face of Folk Music, a collaboration with the writer Robert Shelton. By that time the photographer was in the midst of a decade-long affiliation with Time, snapping for the magazine portraits of fine artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Salvador Dalí, and Georgia O'Keeffe. In 1970 Gahr shot Janis Joplin for the cover of Rolling Stone, and also snapped the cover of her classic posthumous LP Pearl. Other subjects include John Lennon, Van Morrison, Laura Nyro, and Joni Mitchell. Gahr died at his New York City home on May 25, 2008.