By Michael Goldstein
Subject – “Bob Dylan, at his Byrdcliff Home”, an Elliott Landy photo used on the cover of “Nashville Skyline”, a recording released in April, 1969 on Columbia Records.
To put it simply – everyone who was part of “the 60’s generation” knows this photograph. So much so that, in order to provide visitors to their “Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era” exhibition (on display thru 9/16/07), the Whitney Museum of American Art chose this image as the principal illustration for the fold-out handout given to attendees during the show.
And why not? To many, this photo of Bob Dylan at his home in Woodstock represents the mood of the era where, as Elliott puts it, “it reflects the love we were all seeking to find through making the world a better place”. Dylan certainly looks happy at home, don’t you think, and yet he was trying hard to distance himself from the world’s troubles and just focus on his family and his music.
Nashville Skyline, which featured the timeless “Lay Lady Lay”, “I Threw It All Away” and a host of Dylan-penned classics – including a duet with Johnny Cash called “Girl From The North Country”, was the 1969 follow-up to John Wesley Harding and an out-and-out country/country-rock album. When you first heard it, you weren’t 100% certain that it was Dylan singing, as he had taken on a country crooner’s vocal stylings, but once you heard the words and music, Dylan’s magic took you over and made you a country-rock fan. The record spawned three hit singles and reached #3 on the U.S. record charts. It was also his fourth #1 album in the U.K..
After Elliott’s previous photos of Dylan and The Band had solidified his relationship with the artists and their management/record label, he moved to Woodstock permanently in 1968 and, in early 1969, he was hired to take a picture for the back cover of the soon-to-be-released Dylan album, titled Nashville Skyline. Here now, in the words of photographer Elliott Landy, we learn how this image went from the back cover to the forefront of our consciousness (and the front cover of the record!)…
In the words of photographer Elliott Landy –
“He had the front cover already picked out – a picture of the skyline of Nashville, where he had recorded the album. We didn’t know what to do – we had no concepts when we started. We met and he suggested that we take a picture in front of the bakery in Woodstock with his son Jesse and two local Woodstock people. The brown leather jacket he was wearing was the same one he had worn for the covers of John Wesley Harding and Blonde on Blonde.
He was still uncomfortable being photographed and, therefore, I was uncomfortable photographing him, but we stayed with it. We took some pictures at the bakery and then went to my house and hung out…The same day, we took some photographs outside my house. He had his glasses on, but there wasn’t any discussion about ‘I don’t want to have the glasses on the album’ or anything like that. We were just easy – it was very casual. He wanted some pictures, we took them, and neither of us conceptualized it. I’m spontaneous when I work, and so is he. An Art Director might have said ‘Take the glasses off’, but neither he nor I thought about it. However people present themselves is how I photograph them – I don’t judge it.
Then on another afternoon I went over to his place. As we left the house, he grabbed a hat and asked ‘Do you think we could use this?’ I had no idea if it would be good or not, so I told him ‘take it and we’ll see.’ We walked around through the woods behind his house looking for a good spot. It had just been raining, we had boots on, and he was carrying this hat.
He paused for a moment – apparently inspired – and said ‘What about taking one from down there?’ pointing to the ground. As I started kneeling I saw that it was muddy, but I kept going. ‘Do you think that I should wear this?’ he asked, starting to put on his hat, smiling because it was kind of a goof, and he was having fun visualizing himself in this silly-looking traditional hat. ‘I don’t know’ I said as I snapped the shutter. It all happened so fast. If I had any resistance in me, I would have missed the photograph that became the front cover. It’s best to be open to life.
I brought the picture to CBS Records and told them that Dylan wanted this as the new cover image and that he didn’t want any writing on the cover – no names, logos or other sales tools. This was Bob’s way of saying that his music was not created as a commercial pursuit. Despite his wishes, CBS put their logo in the upper left-hand corner and, although small and seemingly insignificant, this ruins the three-dimensionality of the image (try this – while looking at the record cover, cover up the logo, then uncover it and cover it up again. The image will appear to go from two dimensions to three and then back).
During those days in Woodstock, he was really open and in a good mood. It was sunny out and we just followed our instincts. It was the first picture of him smiling and, in my opinion, it reflects the inner spirit, the loving essence of the man behind all of the inspiring music he has given us. Someone told me that the reason people like it so much is that it makes them happy. Every review of the album mentioned his smile on the cover…This was a magical picture for all of us. It certainly assured my reputation as a photographer.”
(Text excerpted from his book “Woodstock Vision”, copyright 1994 Elliott Landy). Purchase this book from Elliott at http://www.landyvision.com/books.html
About Elliott Landy –
Elliott Landy, born in 1942, began photographing the anti-Vietnam war movement and the underground music culture in New York City in 1967. He photographed many of the underground rock and roll superstars, both backstage and onstage, from 1967 to 69.
His images of Bob Dylan and The Band, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Joan Baez, Van Morrison, Richie Havens, and many others documented the music scene during that classic rock and roll period which culminated with the 1969 Woodstock Festival, of which he was the official photographer.
After that, Elliott moved on to other inspirations and art forms, photographing his own children and travels, creating impressionist flower photographs and doing motion and kaleidoscopic photography in both still and film formats.
His photographs have been published worldwide for many years in all print mediums including covers of Rolling Stone, Life, the Saturday Evening Post, etc. and album covers, calendars, photographic book collections, etc.
He has published “Woodstock Vision, The Spirit of A Generation”, in book and CD-ROM format, and authored the book “Woodstock 69, The First Festival”.
Elliott Landy trivia – “curiously, because our names are anagrams of each other – DYLAN/LANDY – many people thought I didn’t exist – that I was Dylan under an alias!”
To see all of Elliott’s works in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click on the following link:
About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
Every Friday at RockPop Gallery and syndicated on The Rock and Roll Report on the following Monday, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.