Unpublished Bob Dylan photos donated to GVSU

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In 1964, a collection of behind-the-scenes photos of music legend Bob Dylan 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 Gilbert when he presented his proposed layout, as he recalls.

Now, those rare Dylan images and thousands more are in the possession of the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery.

Gilbert, a West Michigan native and resident, had been searching for the right place to house his life’s work, especially as he’s nearly fully lost his eyesight due to glaucoma.

“Now, having made this move to the university, it has been really satisfying,” Gilbert said.

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 GVSU’s galleries and collections.

The gift includes prints as well as 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 such as Carol Burnett and Simon and Garfunkel, just as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” hit the charts.

His work in New York also included photography at what’s now the Association for Metro Area Autistic Children; some of those photos will be on display at the GVSU 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, the images Gilbert captured during trips to Italy over a 10-year period — among his personal favorites — are the subject of an exhibition that runs through June 19 at the Blue Wall Gallery at the downtown GVSU DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton St.

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