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Turning The Lens On Renowned 60s Photographer Rowland Scherman

October 30, 2013 1:33 p.m.


Chris Szwedo, filmmaker, "Eye On The 60's"

Photographer Rowland Scherman

Related Story: Turning The Lens On Renowned '60s Photographer Rowland Scherman


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One photograph can capture the essence of an emotion and event or sometimes even a person. When you combined great photography with historic event you come as close as you can to experiencing the past. Rowland Sherman worked in Washington DC taking photographs of Kennedy, and he worked for Life magazine photographing iconic musicians of the 1960s. Now he and his pictures can be seen in the documentary Eye on the 60s. Welcome to the program.

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: That was a great intro, and much appreciated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Chris Szwedo. How did you come across Rowland's work?

CHRIS SZWEDO: Basically I walked into an art Gallery and saw his photographs. The gallery was only 2 miles from my house. I was taken by the angle, and the moment that he captured, andfamous people that I admired, the president, LBJ, all the musicians of the era. Someone asked me if I like his work and I asked if I could meet him. At that point I wanted to make a film. It took about a month. We started our quest to make this documentary.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As Chris points out it's a wide expanse of topics in your photos, that really marks your work. You've photographed the March on Washington and John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The Beatles and Bob Dylan the other music icons, what did your style change for different subjects?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: I don't think it did. I have one point of view. My compositional sense is my best aspect of my work. I just photograph stuff the way I think it should be photographed because it should tell stories somewhere. I want to tell it the best I can.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The aim is to tell the story, and the story changes because of the situation?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Of course. Sometimes you have the time to set it all up, and sometimes it happened so quick, you have to ready for it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You took some incredible photographs. One in particular of the one young African-American girl with a very expressive face and you did not know who that was until recently. Tell us about that.

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: When I'm photographing faces and I do more than one shot. My first freelance gig was one of the greatest events in US history, and I was a beginning freelancer. I worked like hell to get in there good, I just had to shoot a few more. British television told me who she was and got us together in April and we went to meet each other for the first time after fifty years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: She had no idea she was part of this famous March on Washington photograph that was included in a calendar on the event and she found her picture there and you finally met.

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Now she is a poster child for the National Park Service. The park rangers want to get their picture taken with her. She sees it as a personal awakening.

CHRIS SZWEDO: All this and you realize you're in a famous photograph. She is a lovely woman. She is one of the few people ñ she saw both speeches. There's so much history behind each photo.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Eye on the 60s is the name of the documentary. You can see the photos on our website at It seems that your focus in this documentary is as much on Rowland as on his photographs. What do you find unique about him as a personality?

CHRIS SZWEDO: I am attracted to people with talent. I'm attracted to people with a sense of adventure and people who follow through on talent and don't waste it. From the moment it seemed that he knew that his path was going to take him somewhere. That is one of the lessons of the film. If you're wondering what to do with your talent, use it. That is a big part. There are many stories to go on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are so many great photographs in this documentary. So many evocative photographs of the Kennedys and the March on Washington. Are great photographs more about skill or luck?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Good question. You will have to split it down the middle. There is a wonderful picture of Graham Jackson playing the accordion with tears streaming down his face at FDR's funeral. One of the best pictures I've ever had. I just got in luck on that. In my case, I was lucky enough to get this freelance job. I had an access that was incomparable. I could go anywhere. That part was luck. The other part of it is that it seemed like there were only about twenty photographers in those days. Now they're everywhere. There are twenty photographers on every street these days.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the album cover of Bob Dylan that won its own Grammy award. It is on the greatest hits album. Bob Dylan's profile and his hair; how did you get that?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: You have to see the movie. I knew the lighting needed to be a certain way. I had to be going backstage to get it. They wouldn't let me backstage, but those days I was shooting every day for Life magazine and I shoved them out of the way. I got the shot twice. And I went back to my seat and said thanks. The art director saw the pictures and said that is the next cover. Everything should happen that easy. Everything should be that easy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You'd mentioned in the documentary Eye on the 60s, that is what were talking about. As you look back at your photographs, in making this documentary what was your image of the 60s of that time?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: A lot of credit goes to Chris on this. I had fifty years of stuff, not only is that a tremendous thing, but he is a great editor and some things that I forgot about he put in in the movie. The gravity of this stuff is greater than I anticipated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think that people will come out of this film understanding the 60s more?

CHRIS SZWEDO: Oh yes, it will rub off on you when you see situations. It's about individual moments and how we capture them and it is also about change. Technology and this quickness of time, one of the ways we can deal with time is to understand it. Immortality happens in photography. It's a way of taking the edge off when we get older.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When I was watching the documentary, I know how important the Kennedy era was to forming you as a photographer. In a few weeks it will be the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Wonder if you can tell us how the president and his family inspired your work.

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Like thousands of other Americans I was struck his inaugural speech it seemed like a new frontier. I guess I got caught up in the fact that he was intelligent and beautiful and very cool. This guy that you could respect and look up to. His brother-in-law gave me my first job in the Peace Corps. I gave up myself and joined the Peace Corps and it made my career.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you were also wrapped up in the candidacy?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Indeed. It was a labor of love. Hanging out with him was awe-inspiring. His fans and people who would vote for him. I'm sorry he did not make it, he would've been one of the greatest presidents.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Another thing, there's a serious political sign in your photographs. Then there's another time where you worked with Life magazine interviewing musicians and artists, did you have fun doing that?

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Do you remember when you said if luck was part of it? Life magazine was the big cat in the media. Every photographer wanted to be in Life magazine. I was, in the last half of the 60s. I had more pictures in Life than anyone else. If you get an assignment for Life, that was the way it was. It opened doors, it was terrific.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You spent some time at Woodstock, and took some iconic pictures of Woodstock.

CHRIS SZWEDO: It's the equivalent of going to Gettysburg. Not a battle, but it was. You got a sense of the resonance there. In the film, when the moon comes up and doves are flying and it is getting dark out ñ we have a lot of poignancy and humor in this and we have great photography.

ROWLAND SCHERMAN: Did you tell everyone that I am in Cape Cod even though even though it sounds like I am in the room? I want to say hi to some people in San Diego. My beautiful cousin is out there and her beautiful husband Dennis.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now everyone knows, there goes the mystery for us. But let me tell our audience, a special screening of the Eye on the 60s is this Sunday at 7 PM at the Museum of Photographic arts in Balboa Park. You can see all of the photographs that we have been talking about along with the documentary.