Word of photographer Ross Halfin's Led Zeppelin book project has been on
the grapevine for some time now, and while some people were skeptical at
the thought of another pricey Zep book, those in the know indicated that
this would be something special.
Working as he does directly with Jimmy Page (and Page's daughter Scarlet), Halfin is in a unique and privileged position to create this work - to date the only book aside from Richie Yorke's 1976 biography to be officially sanctioned by anyone connected with the band - in this case Page himself, who adds his signature and a brief endorsement at the front.
I had every intention of writing a measured, objective review of this tome, but when it arrived at Proximity World Headquarters in early December, all caution was thrown to the winds - to cut straight to the chase, it is absolutely amazing!!
With all due respect to Laurance Ratner, Neal Preston, Michael Randolph and everyone else who has attempted a serious work on Led Zeppelin, The Photographers Led Zeppelin is unquestionably the definitive work on the band, and the yardstick by which all else must be measured from now on.
Published by Henry Rollin's 2.13.61 press, the 9" by 12" volume is elegantly bound in black cloth with silver embossed lettering, and tucked into a heavy matching slipcase. It contains over 350 duotones and hand-tinted photos, and in the tradition of many other great photograph books, the 336-pages are divided into sections, each one devoted to the work of a different photographer.
Twenty three are represented in all, ranging from very familiar names like Neal Preston, Bob Gruen and Halfin himself to more obscure but no less talented artists like Robert Knight, Jeffrey Mayer and Robert Zagaris.
It is in this approach that the book succeeds so brilliantly. Rather than represent just one person's style and viewpoint, The Photographers Led Zeppelin offers a wide and wildly varying depiction of the band, on and off stage, at work and at play, on home ground and in exotic locations, and at all points during their 12-year tenure as a band.
In his concise introduction, Ross Halfin states that this collection "personifies the mystique about Led Zeppelin, but at the same time, illustrates the bandís human side. They were fun. Sure they were cool and imposing, but they had a sense of humor." In this description of his work, Mr. Halfin hits the nail squarely on the head.
It may seem trite to say that this book, or any other, actually captures the aura of Led Zeppelin, but I can think of no other way to describe the reaction I had in going through these photos, poring over each one and digesting the myriad of details it had to offer, and the images it conjured up.
In these images is the story of the band. You can see the enjoyment on Robert's face as he scans the audience in a Neil Zlowozer shot from Los Angeles 1975. The pure joy in Jimmy's eyes has he hails the crowd at Knebworth in one of Ross Halfin's best photos. Bonzo's mask of intense concentration as he tunes his drums in front of Koh Hasebe's lens in Hiroshima 1971. The camaraderie of Page and Plant backstage in Los Angeles at the legendary 1970 'Blueberry Hill' show as they mug for Chuck Boyd - who also caught Bonzo grinning and spinning his sticks behind the drums at an LA studio session in 1969. I could go on and on. . . but it's all here. The essence of Led Zeppelin, right in front of your face. And nary a word of text except identification of the date and location.
For anyone concerned about duplicating familiar shots in the purchase of this book, fear not. While some of the best known and widely produced images of the band are here, they are hands down the best reproductions you've ever seen. And more to the point, they are in the minority - the book is absolutely packed with photographs that will blow the mind of even the most seasoned Zep fan and collector.
Which brings me to my very favorite image. Honolulu airport, May 12, 1969 Robert Knight catches the band arriving on the airfield, standing in front of their commercial Pan Am flight. They are in the middle of their eighth tour in as many months, and on their young faces is a mixture of weariness and relief, knowing that they've got a few days rest ahead in the sunny warmth of the Hawaiian Islands. Freshly adorned in welcoming leis, Jimmy clutches a box of albums - no doubt freshly purchased on the mainland, and Robert and John are carefully holding four cartons of gold - Ampex and BASF reel-to-reel tape boxes no doubt containing the works-in-progress that would become Led Zeppelin II.
The photo is beautifully hand-tinted and like so many others in this spectacular book, its details speak a thousand words. If Led Zeppelin is more than just another band to you, then you must have this book. I assure you it will be the best hundred bucks you ever spent.
(Note from the Webmaster: you can visit he 2.13.16 Books' Photographers Led Zeppelin Web page at: http://www.two1361.com/books/zep.html