Published on April 18th, 2016 | by Mike Ainscoe0
The Band Photographs – 1968-1969 Book Review
By Elliott Landy
Elliott Landy – a name from rock history. Not because of ground breaking albums or trendsetting style, but as the iconic rock and roll photographer who was the official photographer for Woodstock and visual chronicler of names such as Hendrix, Dylan, The Doors, Janis Joplin. He’s associated with so many of the musicians who came to be seen as symbols of the era, one when rock music was breaking through and becoming an art form in a manner such that his photographic work is viewed in a similar way.
The Band were of course known as Dylan’s backup band in their original guise of The Hawks, but in their own right evolved into a group who did things in their own way; moving in a direction which remained unexplored, creating, although some would say inventing, their own Americana from the roots of folk, country, rock and blues.
What this collection does is open up his records of a band from having the privilege of working in the inner sanctum. The book was initially financed by a Kickstarter campaign that raised the money needed to print and review about 8000 photographs from original negatives.
The images are done justice too, presented in the format of a 12”x12” hardback, quality paper too, giving the images room to breathe and not be condensed or compressed. Yes, it might magnify any technical inconsistencies – there’s blur, there’s grain and struggles with exposures – and it may highlight anything that’s not digitally pin sharp, but this is photography, not image manipulation where perfection or something in that direction can be created at the click of a mouse. This is real photography; with film and skill and a round of applause for that! With vinyl making a comeback, maybe the art of sleeve design and gatefold, something definitely lost in the reduction in size and quality of CD packaging, is making a comeback too.
The vast majority of the 160 pages contain unpublished images carefully arranged in an uncluttered fashion to the extent of even omitting obtrusive page numbers – although there’s a nice collection of thumbnails and captions at the end of the book. From candid to posed and the opportunist – photo verite is mentioned – the collection is spilt into sections which cover the 1968 Big Pink Days, Backstage 1969, The Studio, Woodstock, California 1969 as well as work which sees some experimentation with colour and infrareds. There’s also plenty of experimenting with styles, ultimately settling on one particularly effective shoot which shows the band (The Band) donning their Sunday best for a series of definitive shots in which they appear like a motley crew of wild western brigands from another time. Influential? Check out the cover of ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ by Rival Sons…
The handful of live performance shots from New York and San Francisco in 1969 are pretty much of their time. The same things photographers struggle with in shooting rock gigs today – low light and washes of red and blue, but their value is as historical artefacts as is pretty much the whole collection. A collection which pays due tribute to not only Landy, but the four guys from Canada plus Levon Helm, two truly revolutionary figures. A set of photographs which provide an intimate and inside portrait of a group of musicians on a trip, a mission even, to chronicle what would turn out to be a pivotal period on the timeline of music history.
A more in depth interview with Landy can be found here