In May 1961, in Branford, Connecticut, where Dylan is due to perform at the Montowese Hotel, there’s also a photographer waiting for him. His name is Joe Alper. 37 years old, a jazz and folk fan, Alper is already shooting a variety of important record covers for artists like John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus and Pete Seeger, but never fails to shoot and support, with a fervor shared with his wife Jackie, the young upcoming folkies that get to perform in the local clubs and cafes, like the historic Caffe Lena in Sarasota Springs.
The Alper’s are in the right milieu. Jackie works as secretary to the legendary ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax and, like Joe, is a close friend of Pete Seeger, another hero of folk music and civil conscience. Joe has only recently devoted himself to photography. Alper often follows Dylan with his camera, at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in 1961 or more north, in January 1962, at Caffe Lena or at the San Remo in Schenectady. On these occasions Dylan stays at the Alper’s house in Brandywine Avenue.
Captured in an unusual domestic bliss, often with Suze Rotolo, Joe Alper records Dylan with simplicity and immediacy. In April 1962, Alper gives Dylan a ride to Columbia Studios for the first recording session for what will become The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. He is invited inside - luckily he has his camera with him.
In just ten years, from 1958 to 1968, Alper shot over 80,000 negatives. About 30,000 cover the greatest jazz and folk artists of his time. An equally important part of his archive has been devoted to the civil rights movement, which he documented both as active member and as collaborator of the SNCC Freedom Singers. Many of these images are featured in the book and film Eyes On The Prize.
His career ended prematurely when he died in 1968 at only 43, after having just established a photo department at SUNY, the University of Albany. Joe Alper also taught photography at the Nova Gallery in Sarasota Springs, at YWCA in Schenectady, at the Union College, and had been an art lecturer and consultant at State Univerity in Albany.