"Sound and Furty" photographer Neal Preston: "When you become invisible, that's when you can capture the magic"
Led Zeppelin, that band that wrote the book on heavy rock, is now helping to rewrite the book on digital publications.
Acclaimed rock photographer Neal Preston's new e-book breaks ground for the genre with interactive video, 80 contact sheets and photos never previously published.
Preston followed the band throughout the '70s and opened up his vast archive to create a rich, intimate experience with the world of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
Sharon Waxman grilled Preston on "Led Zeppelin: Sound and Fury," which was published on Monday and available on iTunes.
You've had this archive forever, but you only published many of these photos now. Were you just waiting for the iPad to be born?
No. I wasn't even waiting for computers to be born. This is the direction that book publishing is taking. It's a little leap of faith, we're in uncharted territory here.
(Here's a preview of the book; the story continues after video)
It differs exponentially from a traditional coffee-table book. The photos look killer on the new iPad with the retina display. It was a way to really give the fans even more of what they so crave — all that behind-the-scenes stuff. In this kind of book you can include so much more — audio captions, video interviews.
You shot that famous photo (at top of page) of Jimmy Page drinking from a Jack Daniels bottle backstage. Do you tell that story?
There's audio caption of taking that photo. Sometimes you remember shooting a picture, sometimes you don't. I remember that photo. I happened to be sitting to his right in the dressing room; I had a Nikon with a 24mm lens on my lap, and I was going to say something to Jimmy and I saw the bottle move toward his mouth and I picked up the camera, shot one frame, and I don't know if he even realized I was there shooting it.
Was he upset that you published it?
I don't believe we released that photo initially. I was brought in to work for them. In 1970 I was 18 and I ended up at press conference to announce that Led Zeppelin had supplanted the Beatles as No. 1 band in the world in a MelodyMaker poll.
The reason I was hired was they were notoriously cloistered. Not secretive but with very small inner circle unlike the Stones, when Mick Jagger had 100 people getting his laundry. It was pretty amazing they let any photographer come in and have the run of the store. I was that guy.
How did that come about?
Danny Goldberg, their publicist, hired me. I'd done work for the band through Atlantic Records. He called me up and said: “Pack your bags if you want to go on tour with us.” I got that call in November 1974. January 1975 I was working for them.
What's so great about these images is you really feel like you're on stage with those guys.
In one of those, Jimmy's looking right at me, there's dry ice, you see Robert — during song called “No Quarter.” Right after I shot that he came up to me and started talking to me. Reason I love that photo is that it feels like being on stage with Led Zeppelin. It sucks you right in.
Access is the currency I have to trade in. Night after night, day after day, week after week, as a photojournalist, you become invisible. When you become invisible, that's when you can capture the magic.
Did the band approve the photos in book?
No, the band was not part of this book, though they received it and I understand they like it very much. This was a different platform, and a new one, and one that hasn't really been exploited in terms of this kind of book, this kind of band.
This book is $9.99 — it's inexpensive compared to a coffee-table book. Is this the world photographers live in now?
It's a digital book. You can't have tactile experience with it. However, this is the way publishing is going. There are two things that I hope people get out of this book. One is for the fans, it's a total wet dream. It's right up the vein.
To get the contact proof sheet — you start to see photographically how I think. They can hear the stories they wouldn't hear unless they were up in my house having dinner. And I hope fans get a sense of how much of myself I've put into this book.
I'm very proud of my writing. Stevie Nicks did my intro, because back in the day, she was the first person who sat and looked at a stack of my prints, and said, “You've got to do a book.”