Woodstock photographer’s works speak to a generation
July 27 – August 18, 2017
By Sean Flynn
Daily News staff writer
Posted Jul 28, 2017
MIDDLETOWN — Photographer Elliott Landy brought it all back home for his listeners Friday as he talked about the anti-Vietnam War protests, the pro-choice demonstrations, and the rock stars and bands of the late 1960s, illustrating his narratives with the photos he shot at so many of those scenes.
“In those days, the rock ‘n’ roll culture was an anti-war culture,” he said. “For me, taking these photos was showing a different way of living.”
Landy, who was the official photographer of the Woodstock Festival in 1969, was a featured speaker at the Newport Antiques Show.
He enthralled his audience with close and personal photos of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and perhaps most of all Bob Dylan and the members of The Band — Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel.
But there were also his photos of marches for peace in Washington, D.C., of police beating demonstrators, and culture war standoffs around issues like abortion.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Elaine Barlow of Newport after the talk. “Imagine his life, being in the middle of all that at that time. A lot of what we saw then is happening now. Are we reliving that time? It’s pretty crazy.”
“His stories were very interesting,” said Mark Barlow, Elaine’s husband. “This is pretty important stuff.”
Landy has lived in Woodstock, New York, since the mid-1960s, with some stints in Europe in the 1970s and some later work in New York City.
“I grew up in Woodstock in the Catskills and grew up with Elliott’s photography,” said Jessica Hagen, who owns the Jessica Hagen Fine Art + Design gallery at 9A Bridge St., Newport.
“Last fall, I ran into Elliot on the street in Woodstock, and told him, ‘I’d love to do a show of your photos,’” she said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing for years.”
Dylan and Landy both lived in Woodstock in the late 1960s and Landy would go over to Dylan’s house to take photos of him, his wife and his children. Landy would sometimes stay over at the Dylan’s house.
One day when they were out in the yard, Landy got down on his knees in the mud to photograph Dylan, who was holding a guitar, from below. Dylan jokingly said that he didn’t want to be wearing his old-fashioned hat in the photo and reached up to remove it, but Landy already had clicked. That became the cover photo of Dylan’s album “Nashville Skyline.”
Before then, folksinger Woody Guthrie had died in October 1967, and Dylan made his first live appearance in 20months at a Guthrie memorial concert held at Carnegie Hall in January, 1968, where he was backed by The Band.
No photos were allowed, but Landy broke down his camera and his girlfriend had the parts stowed in her bag. When they sat down, Landy reassembled the camera and got his shots.
His story about the incident, getting caught in the act, and his run-in with producer Albert Grossman amused the audience. Grossman managed great performers like Dylan, The Band and Joplin, who Landy would later photograph, so he had to deal with Grossman later in 1968 and 1969.
“He didn’t like me,” Landy said.
Landy formed close relationships with many of the performers he shot, but he seemed especially close to members of The Band who lived near Woodstock and often performed and practiced with Dylan.
“They were human, humane and sincere in a really good way,” Landy said.
The Band’s first album was “Music From Big Pink,” and Landy has a photo of the pink house they lived in, with the entrance to the basement visible in the photo.
“It was such an ugly house, pink shingles and exposed basement masonry,” he said.
That basement is where Dylan and The Band began recording songs, initially demos for other artists to record. Columbia released selections in 1975 as “The Basement Tapes.” Over the years, more songs recorded by Dylan and The Band in the basement appeared on bootleg recordings.
When Landy was working with The Band and planning photos for the group’s second album, he had an idea.
“I had a book of Civil War photographs,” he said. “I thought, ‘That suits their style.’”
He had the band members dress in clothing from an earlier era and had them standing in a field. Another iconic photo was made and it became an album cover.
“I wanted it printed in a sepia tone but they couldn’t do it,” Landy said.
He was in that music world for less than two years, closing out that part of his life as 1969 came to an end.
Things started changing and art directors were taking more control over album covers and photo shoots, he said.
“I had to think about what the art director would think and want,” he said. “It was a stab to my essence. I only photograph when I’m inspired. It was the whole Zeitgeist of the time. When that all changed and the music began to change, I couldn’t shoot.”
That is when Landy picked up his belongings and left with his first wife and child to Europe, arriving there with $22. He spent the next seven years moving from country to country, selling photos of his wife and child and doing other tasks. A second child was born in Switzerland.
When he and his family returned to the U.S., he continued his professional career as a photographer, shooting for different publications.
Landy has published several collections of his work, including “Woodstock Vision: The Spirit of a Generation.”
Hagen has an exhibit of Landy’s iconic photos at the Newport Antiques Show that continues today, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the St. George’s School’s ice rink that is remodeled into booths, showrooms and galleries every year for the antiques show. People who miss the show this weekend can catch the Landy exhibit at Hagen’s gallery through Aug. 18.