There’s virtually no text within the approximately two-hundred seventy-five pages of Grateful Dead Photography, but there doesn’t need to be. Apart from the acknowledgments, a listing of credits and a foreword from Graham Nash, only captions appears this chronological visual history of the iconic rock and roll band, and that’s as it should be. And not just because, as the saying goes ‘…a picture is worth a thousand words;’ as with so many projects devoted to and/or emanating from this band’s colorful oeuvre; Eyes of the World taps into the fundamental creativity of the band itself.
Photographers famous and not so famous volunteered their work to the editing team of Josh Baron and Jay Blakesberg, but whether it’s a name associated with the group (Bob Minkin, Susana Millman), one known by comparable association (Rolling Stone Magazine stalwart Baron Wolman, the contributions further the story told in respective sections covering the three decades of the Dead’s history.
Not surprisingly, shots ranging from formal portraits to stage action predominate and among those, fittingly, a plethora of titular leader Jerry Garcia in which his dignity is as broadly on display as the positive side of his nature. But there are also enough panoramic shots of venues like the Berkeley, California’s Greek Theater and Giants Stadium in Roosevelt, New Jersey to provide perspective. And that’s not to mention the images of the Deadhead community that pepper these pages as well, if only to remind us that the essential mission of this group was to connect with their audience in such a way both parties came away inspired.
And throughout this vast array of images, black and white shots such as the portrait of a beaming Robert Hunter by Blakesberg himself or that of Garcia captured on-stage, circa 1973, in unusually resplendent finery, look as vibrant as many of the color photos; it’s a contrast somewhat akin to the difference between mono and stereo sound reproduction, each of which has its own advantages for the observer. Meanwhile, a palpable energy seems to emanate from the pages to such a degree that, if Eyes of the World is not exactly a print representation of time-elapsed photography, it’s very close to it.
Accordingly, the scenic splendor of an outdoor venue such as Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas reflects the expanse of the Dead’s audience as it grew in later years. Likewise, the changing physical appearance of the band members, including their individual choice of clothes, mirrored the near constant changes in the sound of the band; as with the photographers, so too with the two editors themselves here: everyone involved knew how to paint with strokes both broad and narrow.
There are more than a few absolutely breathtaking pictures here—take the 1992 spread of an alfresco Ohio venue– so, a cursory perusal from 1965-1995 is as enlightening in its own way as a careful inspection. A casual glance at random pages of this hefty hardcover (12 x 2 x 12 inches and just over five pounds) offers multiple revelations, such as those evoked by candid images of an upbeat, vibrant Brent Mydland, that belie that purported inner torment eventually leading to his unfortunate demise.
Like its coffee-table companion piece, Fare Thee Well: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead by Jay Blakesberg, Grateful Dead Photography isn’t meant to just be a fine art piece admired from a distance. Much like a memorable performance of the Grateful Dead, it’s a living, breathing creation in which to become immersed over and over again.