“Elliott Landy is the eye of a generation. The iconic photos he has taken are the visuals of our lives, just as the rock ‘n rollers he captured on film wrote the soundtracks of our lives. Following in the utopian footsteps of Byrdcliffe and Maverick, the Woodstock Festival was the signature of an era. The values of the 60’s which grew and flourished such as human rights, environmental awareness, political activism, expanded art forms, spirituality, all sorts of boundary breaking, mixed in with a heavy dose of drugs, sex, innocence, and of course, peace and love, came to a crescendo during those three days in Bethel. (Making the world a better place while having oh so much fun.) Elliott brilliantly recorded it. Some of his photographs of musicians are so deeply etched in our consciousness that these images are now part of our collective memory. And now, almost 50 years later, we need this joy and affirmation more than ever. Thank you Elliott, for being there.”
Woodstock Vision, Book
The Vision of a Generation
There was a terrible war raging in Vietnam in the Sixties. We, the Woodstock Generation, knew it was wrong and fought against it. We didn’t care what the social penalties were – we stood our ground and said, “No, this is wrong. I love my country and will not participate in this immoral action which destroys the principles our country was built on.”
At the same time, music was reaching us. It got us so excited that we felt a deep part of ourselves which we had not been in touch with before. It was wild, and its wildness freed us from cultural restraints, from the uptightness that habits place on a human being. So people were free to be naked in public, to talk about having sex, to smoke grass openly with friends, take acid, have long hair, dress any way they chose, to experiment and explore life freely.
I was a young photographer looking for a way to publish my work. I was a human being, hurt and injured by the injustice of the war. I was a person who smoked grass occasionally and loved to listen to music. When I was stoned, I always wanted to take pictures. I combined all these elements into an attempt to make my life good. I wanted to earn money, make beautiful pictures, listen to music, and help the world.
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Stars and Stones
At peace demonstrations I saw a lot of violence and police brutality. The police almost always provoked the violence, an aspect of the situation the mainstream press was not reporting. Newspaper accounts of demonstrations I had been to bore little relation to the experience I had had, almost as if the reporters had been to a different demonstration.
The establishment media devoted more space to movie stars, corporate announcements, and singular violent crimes than to an expression of social and human conscience by tens of thousands of people.
One night there was a demonstration against South African diamond mines, on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center. The police charged into the peaceful picket line and began hitting people with nightsticks. Everyone ran, but the police caught up with one young man who had a limp and beat him to the ground for no reason whatsoever. I took a picture. Someone yelled that Bobby Kennedy was right below us in the ice-skating rink.
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High on the Music
The appeal of musicians of the Sixties was that they played from a very deep, very personal, very poetic part of themselves. They tried to express the essence of themselves through their music. Musicians had always tried to express this essence, of course. But in the Sixties they consciously looked for it and went beyond the norms of society to develop a new form of music created as a participatory experience for the audience. They did not simply perform, but interacted with the audience, inviting them to dance, to change their life-styles, to become part of a large family of like-minded beings. The concert space became a communal space for an evening.
If the Sixties generation wanted to change the world, the musicians were viewed as the leaders. We confused their art with their personalities. As artists they had discovered how to tap into the essence of the time, how to utilize masses of energy to move people and communicate their feelings. In so doing they created a powerful transformative experience for a culture in the midst of an evolutionary elevation of awareness.
But the musicians, so successful at their art, often didn’t reach that same level in their personal lives-some failed abysmally-nor were they necessarily gurus in areas other than music. Dylan tried to make this clear to me when we met by denying that he was a political leader.
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The first time I heard The Band’s music was the night I met Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson to show them my photographs. After looking at my pictures in the hallway of the recording studio in New York, Robbie brought me into the mixing room where Garth was listening to his masterful organ intro to “Chest Fever” coming full blast from the finest studio speakers. It was a good beginning. They asked me to meet them in Toronto the following week.
Three of the members of the group picked me up at the airport, and we drove up north to Rick Danko’s uncle’s farm to take the “next of kin” picture which appeared on the album. This was their way of acknowledging their families, and the importance of their roots to their music. Four of them were from Canada, and Levon Helm was from Arkansas. His parents couldn’t make the trip, so we put their picture in the corner of the shot. Dylan didn’t come either.
The guys in The Band were different from the other musicians I had been around. Even though they were young, hung out with the best of ’em, and did whatever “irresponsible” things they wanted, there was a deep wisdom and maturity about them. They knew about life and about people. You couldn’t fool them. They had been around and had seen it all with a really deep comprehension. I liked all of them a lot and felt really comfortable around them-like a kindred soul.
I flew back to New York with John Simon, who had produced the album. When they saw the pictures from Toronto, they liked them, and we made plans to do a shot of the band members alone. On Easter weekend 1968 I went up to photograph them in Woodstock, where they were living in the house they jokingly called Big Pink. Four of them-Levon, Richard Manuel, Garth, and Rick-were living there. Robbie had his own house elsewhere in Woodstock, with his wife, Dominique, a French Canadian journalist.
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Photographing Bob Dylan
href=”http://elliottlandy.com/portfolio-items/bob-dylan-gallery/”>Dylan was at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1967. It was his first public appearance since his motorcycle accident a year earlier. He was playing with The Band, who were unknown at that time.
I was just starting my photographic career and wanted to see the show as well as take some pictures that I could sell. So I called up Dylan’s office, identified myself as a photographer for an underground newspaper, and asked for two press tickets.
I brought my cameras to the concert, assuming that since they’d given me tickets as a photographer, I could take photographs. But when I got to Carnegie Hall, there were signs posted stating “No Photographs Allowed,” and the ushers insisted that I check my cameras. I argued, showing my press pass and the tickets from Dylan’s office, but to no avail. So I said, “OK, no pictures allowed,” and checked half my cameras, but kept the other half -everything that would fit into my pockets and my date’s bag.
I had a good seat near the front of the hall. Dylan came on stage, and I started snapping away, clicking my shutter only during the loud passages in order to be as discreet as possible.
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The Woodstock Festival
In the summer of 1969, Mike Lang rode his motorcycle over to my house in Woodstock and asked if I would be interested in photographing a festival he was planning. It was one of the most important yeses I ever said. We didn’t talk about money except to say that we would work it out. It wasn’t even a handshake-it was preordained.
On August 15, 16, and 17, 1969, nearly 500,000 people gathered together to celebrate life. They came looking for music and new ways. They found a hard path-there were miles to walk; rain and mud; not much food to eat, nor shelter to sleep beneath; life was not as they usually knew it. But something happened. There was peace and harmony despite conditions that might have set off riots. Most everyone lived in consideration and enjoyment with everyone else. Woodstock became a symbol to the world of a better way of life-of freedom, of love, of spiritual union between many. There
was hope. Years have passed. “What has happened… where has Woodstock gone?” Words are heard: “It was a fluke.” “It can never happen again.” “It was not real.”
The coming of a new consciousness is a slow process. Woodstock is a way of thinking, a way of being-kindness, consideration, sharing and enjoying; life as it should be and would be if we lived that way. Astrologically, the birth of the age of Aquarius is upon us-an age of peace and understanding, a golden age. Like all births, the birth of this new consciousness is difficult. Old ways are falling as new ways evolve. The time of labor nears. A soft seedling must break through a hard seed shell. A baby comes through a birth which can be painful.
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