Elliott Landy stands over a stack of proofs that he used to decide what would go into his new book, The Band Photographs, 1968-1969. Each one represents what two facing pages would look like in the book, printed on glossy paper, each page a 12-inch square (coincidentally, the same size as a vinyl record album.)
“First Rachel (Ana Dobken), the editor of the book, went through 12,000 slides and negatives and contact sheets — 12,000 images and picked out ones that she thought belong in the book. Over the years I’ve had my own choices of images, so we piled everything together, the ones she found that I had never picked before, and then made proofs. There are a lot that are not in the book…look at this…wow, I haven’t seen these…there’s enough for another book!”
The book is a sumptuous volume, indeed. It’s out now, on Backbeat Books, an imprint of publisher Hal Leonard. But it represents the artistic concept of Landy alone, financed by Kickstarter, the crowd funding source, from which Landy gathered an astonishing $200,000, the most ever collected for a book of photography.
And so there they are — The Band, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm, in all their youth and glory, at the height of their powers, recording their second album, titled with only their name, living and working, mostly, in Woodstock and in California. These were the days when, ignoring the psychedelic trends in music, the five musicians, along with producer John Simon (who contributes an essay to the book) turned the culture on its ear, creating a type of music that, some 35 years later, would come to be called Americana. It is music that sounds as fresh, unique and relevant today as it did the day Music From Big Pink’s vinyl was cut.
“There’s about 225 maybe, in the book. We had to break it down,” says Landy. “We printed about 600 8×11 proof prints. From that 600, I picked maybe 300 that I thought should go in the book. These are the seconds…So then, when I picked about 300 or so, I paired them together, I asked Rachel to make pairs of them…” His eye is caught by subtleties in photos that may have only once been contact sheets, ones that didn’t make the cut. “That’s the problem, I can never get away from this, it’s filled with so many nice surprises all the time. I’ve made prints for a lot of them but compared to what’s here, not very much, really. And that’s what inspired me to do the book in the first place, we open up a box and there’s these pictures I’ve forgotten about, really good photos…wow, this is really nice stuff…”
“I’ve been basically doing my own books since 1994. I have the computer capacity to do it, I know how to do it, I’ve been organizing it myself, since my book Woodstock Vision and the limited edition book on Bob Dylan for Genesis.
“If The Band Photographs, 1968-1969, was a pure photographic book only, visual, only, I would have used all these [extra] pairs (of photos). But people want to know the story, they want to read John’s text, my text, so there are some really great pairs that didn’t make it to the book.
“This is the Deluxe edition…” he says, holding up the bound copy in sealed box. “The Deluxe edition has a beautiful case and it has an 8×10 print in it from the Big Pink album cover session, where the dog came into the frame — its name was Hamlet, it was Dylan’s dog, he gave it to Rick, so Hamlet came into the picture. And its got a fold out index sheet, with contacts and captions, makes it easier to read the book.”
He shows me another one. “This is the signature edition, signed by me, and it’s got this silly gold band on it…well, it’s not so silly…we had to figure this out so that folks who wanted to spend more money, got something special for it, and folks who didn’t have the money still got a really good, nice book. What’s important to me is that it’s exactly the same book — people who don’t have the money for the Deluxe edition, don’t have a lesser experience.” The book for $45 is the same book that retails for $500 in the Deluxe edition. “I really wanted to treat everyone the same. But I think we’re going to sell out of the Deluxe edition in a few months. I only had 300 printed.
“It’s just by chance it got out in time for Christmas. And just by chance, it’s two years since I started with Kickstarter. No publisher ever really offered me money to do a book. I just felt it was time to do a book and I knew about Kickstarter and I thought why not?” Landy had set a minimum on Kickstarter — where, if you don’t get your minimum pledged, you don’t get any of the money — at $75,000, for which he believed he could do 120 page, 9×11 inch book.
“The book got funded on my birthday, two years ago, on December 20, it reached the minimum goal of $75,000. I remember we were sitting at the computer watching it go up…” And then it just kept on going. “I sold about 800 of the $75 (Signature series) books. If you contributed $25, you got a thank you card (with a Band photo…)”
In the end, he had 26 contributors of $1000; four contributed $3000; three more gave $5000. “I got a few people that gave me $6000 to $8000 dollars, they didn’t go through Kickstarter…”