New York City
Best known for his photographs of Sixties rock stars and his controversial “Blind Faith” photograph used on the cover a 1969 album recorded by Eric Clapton (b. 1945) and others, photographer Bob Seidemann’s interest in airplanes and aviation led to his massive portfolio of portraits of aviation pioneers and photographs of airplanes, “The Airplane as Art.” Born in 1941 in New York City, Seidemann grew up in Queens where he was fascinated by aircraft landing and taking off at nearby LaGuardia Airport. He graduated from the Manhattan High School of Aviation Trades and learned photography from Tom Caravaglia (1928-2014), a professional photographer who specialized in images of dance companies, and by working in a studio that created stock photos. By the late 1960s Seidemann was in San Francisco, where he photographed the musicians of the psychedelic rock bands, particularly Janis Joplin (1943-1970) and Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jerry Garcia (1942-1995) and the Grateful Dead. His 1967 portrait of Joplin clad only in her beads has become famous. Seidemann took the well-known photo of the “Big 5” poster artists, Rick Griffin (1944-1991), Alton Kelley (1940-2008), Victor Moscoso (b. 1936), Stanley Mouse (b. 1940) and Wes Wilson (b. 1937), and provided photographs used by Griffin and by Mouse and Kelly in rock concert posters. Griffin and Seidemann also created a striking poster called “Pieta,” a gender-reversing photograph of a bearded, nude man holding a nude woman with apparent wounds on her chest and hand. Having moved to London at the end of the decade, Seidemann was commissioned to provide the cover art for the new record album featuring his friend Clapton’s post-Cream band, which he did with the help of Mouse, who was also in London at the time. Seidemann’s photograph featured a waist-up portrait of a nude 11-year-old girl holding a shiny metal spacecraft shaped like an airplane superimposed on a picture of the Dorset countryside. Seidemann called his photo “Blind Faith,” which became the name of Clapton’s band. Hugely controversial, the photo was not used on the second pressing of the record after the first pressing of 700,000 albums sold out; the original album cover was banned by several countries and was not used on copies of the album sold in the United States. In the 1970s Seidemann acted as the art director for the Grateful Dead, and created the cover for Garcia’s first solo album in 1972. Over his career Seidemann created more than sixty album covers. He worked as a free-lance professional photographer, concentrating on the music business over the next few decades. In 1986 Seidemann began photographing the wreckage of airplanes scattered around the lands surrounding Edwards Air Force Base and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, both in Southern California. He expanded the scope of his project to include portraits of aircraft designers and engineers and pilots, including General James H. Doolittle (1896-1993) of World War II fame, Walter Spivak, the designer of the B-1B bomber, General Chuck Yeager (b. 1923), the first pilot to break the speed of sound, and the Japanese World War II ace Saburo Sakai (1916-2000). Ultimately Seidemann’s portfolio grew to portraits of 94 aviation pioneers and photos 208 airplanes, flying and wrecked. Sets of the portfolio have sold at auction for more than $200,000 and one resides in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Seidemann died from complications of Parkinson’s disease at his home in Vallejo, Calif. November 27, 2017. (TNB 12/2017) Selected bibliography: Buckland, Gail. Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. Exhibition catalog. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.