Elliott Landy to Publish Never-Before-Seen Photos of The Band

A Woodstock photographer’s new book examines ’60s supergroup the Band

The Band, Richard & Garth’s house above the Ashokan Reservoir, Woodstock, 1969. © Elliott Landy

Elliott Landy, one of the foremost music photographers of the Woodstock generation, will release a new book of photos of The Band.

Even if you don’t know Elliott Landy by name, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the photographs for which he is famous. Born in 1942, Landy was the official photographer of the Woodstock Music Festival, and his images of festivalgoers and performers like Joan Baez, Johnny Winter, and Janis Joplin have helped to sustain Woodstock in the imagination of melomaniacs ever since. His naturalistic portraits of music legends like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison offer an exceptional proximity to icons who might seem otherwise unreachable. He is often credited as one of the first photographers to raise music photography to the stratum of fine art.

The Band Big Pink
The Band behind Big Pink, Easter Sunday, West Saugerties, NY, 1968. © Elliott Landy.

A large portion of Landy’s portfolio comprises images of The Band—the five-piece ensemble who backed Bob Dylan and later went on to record hits like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”—right here in the Hudson Valley. His latest monograph, The Band Photographs, 1968-1969, published in 2016, was the highest-funded photobook in the history of Kickstarter, a “crowdfunding platform focused on creativity.” Now, Landy is raising money to support the publication of a second book of never-before-seen images from his stint photographing The Band.

Levon Helm, throwin’ the ball around with the other guys outside his house in Woodstock. © Elliott Landy

Following the release of the first collection of The Band Photographs, Landy believed he had shared his greatest works from the period. “I felt like that was the last word,” he reflects. However, “a couple years after [The Band Photographs] was published, I was standing in my studio and I saw these boxes of rejects from the first book. I couldn’t believe that some of [the pictures] I was seeing weren’t in my first book,” says Landy. Among the outtakes was his favorite portrait of Rick Danko, an image of Levon Helm playing football, and group shots at Big Pink, the home in Woodstock where The Band wrote many of their indelible tunes. “It’s kind of my obligation, my duty, to put these pictures out there where they can be seen by people,” Landy says before adding, in the true spirit of a Woodstock alum, “People love it, and why should I deny people the experience of love?”

- Advertisement -
The Band in Levon and Rick’s Kitchen, Woodstock, NY, 1968. © Elliott Landy

Landy will accept donations via Kickstarter through April 8 at 8 a.m., with various rewards corresponding to the size of each contribution. A donation of $85 functions as a pre-order, guaranteeing a copy of The Band Photographs, 1968-1969, Volume 2 for the donor upon the book’s publication. Once Landy’s Kickstarter campaign closes, he will continue to accept pre-orders through his website indefinitely.

Related: Where to See Live Music in the Hudson Valley

The following interview with Elliott Landy, facilitated by Mary Forsell, ran upon the release of his photobook, The Band Photographs, 1968-1969, in 2016.

How did the photo sessions with The Band come about?

I was living in New York City and becoming a photographer, learning the craft and how to make money from it. I was asked to come [to Woodstock] and photograph The Band for the Music From Big Pink album. Albert Grossman, The Band’s manager, asked me. The album and the group didn’t have a name. First, they wanted to be anonymous. They didn’t want to label themselves with any particular “cutesy name” — they used that term. They wanted to remain free to change the kind of music they were playing. The Band was living in West Saugerties in a house they dubbed Big Pink. [Lead guitarist and songwriter] Robbie Robertson and his wife, Dominique, lived in Woodstock in another house by themselves.

How did the sessions work?

I went to Big Pink on Easter Sunday weekend in 1968. I was a fly on the wall. I don’t work conceptually at all; I try not to think about what I’m doing. I bring my camera and take pictures of whatever the person is offering up. I let the dance happen. There was no schedule, it was very casual.

What’s your favorite photo from the book?

One great photo is of them sitting on a bench in front of a pond. You don’t know who they are. I didn’t set it up.

- Partner Content -

How did you come up with that iconic sepia image of The Band standing in a field?

After two shoots I’d gotten to know them, and I really liked and respected and admired them; I felt they were wise people. They were very grounded, and, in a way, very old-fashioned, polite. I had a book of Civil War-era photographs by Mathew Brady. I just felt that that style of photography was who they were. Once I established that, I had to analyze the mind space of 1860, what photography was like then. When the photographer came around, the people respected him, and got dressed up and faced the camera and focused on it. I explained it to them, you have to stand straight and pay attention and act like it’s very important and very unusual — like you haven’t seen a camera before.

Do you still have contact with any of The Band’s members?

I remained friendly with them, and I was the go-to photographer for them until the beginning of 2000. After I did The Band album, I decided I didn’t like being part of the music business. The record labels were not pleasant.

Did Band members comment on the book?

Robbie loved it. His son, Sebastian, said it was “insanely gorgeous.” And I agree with him. I look at it with a third person’s eye.

Why this book now?

The feedback I’m getting is that it’s pretty meaningful. I wanted to share it because I was proud — not egotistically proud, but proud in the sense of appreciation that you’ve been part of something that is harmonious to the vibration of life. I was able to do The Band book because of a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. It was the most-funded fine art photography book in their history.

- Advertisement -

Do you still take pictures?

I only shoot digital now. I don’t have time to shoot film anymore. There’s no real need for it. I’ve been taking pictures with my iPhone, shooting film and video and music. I’m also inventing an interactive music and video app that lets people play with music in a new way.

When did you move to Woodstock?

In 1968. I needed a bigger place, I had a girlfriend moving in. At the same time, I was going back and forth to photograph The Band and show them prints and contact sheets, and meeting a lot of people. So I actually knew more people in Woodstock than in New York City. I found the house at the end of a dead-end road for myself and my girlfriend; she had a store, she moved her business up here.

You began your photography career covering antiwar protests. So how did the music industry fit in?

In those days, rock and roll music was part of the underground culture. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Country Joe and the Fish — the musicians I encountered were all vehemently against that war. The underground culture was one of freedom whose message was that we don’t want to do what our parents had done. When I was photographing those concerts, I felt that I was proselytizing for people to become part of this culture. Don’t be warlike, be responsible, give things away for free — all very positive values, which culminated in the Woodstock Festival.

Speaking of the Woodstock Festival, how did you become the official photographer?

I knew Mike Lang, who created Woodstock, from around town as a casual friend. One day he rode up on his motorcycle and said, “I’m producing a concert. Do you want to photograph it?” And I said, “Who’s playing?” and he rattled off a list. And they were, of course, great bands. I said, “Sure, I’ll do that.” He said, “Groovy.” It wasn’t even a handshake. That was, like, three months before the festival.

Were you prepared for the magnitude of the concert?

I knew it was going to be big because of the big names he mentioned. I had an all-access pass, so I was really doing it as a freelancer. I had faith and enough money to buy the film.

Did you photograph around the clock?

I got sleep. I had a motel room the first night. On the second night, I drove back to Woodstock because I heard my girlfriend’s store had burned down. I couldn’t reach her by phone. I missed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jefferson Airplane. Then I came back. I was very casual about it.

What’s so special about Woodstock, the town?

It’s a very magnetic part of the planet, it’s very spiritual. I left Woodstock in 1971 at some point. I didn’t like living in the U.S. because of Vietnam. I wanted to travel, to try something else. I went to Europe for six and a half years, then came back to Woodstock in 1990. I was free, my kids had grown, and I had no more ties anyplace. I realized at some point that Woodstock is my home, where people know me and know my work, and I know them.

What are some of your local hangouts?

My wife and I like to go to vegetarian restaurants. I was a vegetarian for 30 years, but one day a psychic in a reading said, “You should eat some meat, just a little bit every so often.” I felt she was right. We like going to the Garden Café, we go to Joshua’s. We used to go to Bread Alone every morning, but it’s counterproductive to getting work done. We like the Commune Saloon in Bearsville, and the Bear Cafe in summer so we can sit outside. Then we like the Red Onion outside Woodstock and Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in Saugerties.

Related: These Musicians Said “No” to Woodstock

Our Digital Partners

Learn how to become a digital partner ...

Our Excellence in Nursing Awards take place on May 1!

Our Best of Hudson Valley ballot is open through March 31!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.