Photographer amasses a visual history of fleeting monuments to music
By DONNA BALANCIA — Stumped for a last-minute Christmas gift?
For the history buff, or music lover, Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip is a beautiful book that any artist, musician or story lover will treasure.
Famed photographer Robert Landau has assembled his photographs of music billboards that have graced the Sunset Strip.
“I was asked to give a talk on disappearing LA and all that everyone wanted to talk about were the billboards, so I put together my book,” Landau said.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip, published by Angel City Press, is an interesting read in addition to being a remarkable collection of beautiful photographs taken by Landau. Landau has taken the time to interview many of the artists, musicians and executives involved in these temporary monuments to music.
“The billboards were works of art and it took many people to create them,” Landau said. “The people who created the billboards were artisans who took their craft seriously.”
Not only did a billboard project put people to work, but several of them made the news. Never ones to go without controversy for long, a billboard featuring The Rolling Stones was picketed by womens rights groups. The billboard in question depicted a tied-up woman atop a car the band is driving. The billboard had a short-lived residency on the strip.
“I luckily snapped this photo that was then published in the next issue of Rolling Stone,” Landau wrote. “When I first saw the billboard I had a roll of black and white film in my camera, so I tood a few frames, intent on returning to shoot in color. When I returned the following day, it was gone.”
Laundau was lucky with the book project. He grew up near the iconic Sunset Strip and over the years he collected photos of the billboards that went up in his neighborhood. He developed an interest in trapping all the images and keeping them for posterity. He saw the way the billboards would have a short life and he was amazed that something that was so labor intensive and so beautiful would have only a temporary, fleeting life.
“The record companies used to spend money to promote the albums and the performers through the billboards,” Landau said. “Today that has all been lost and mostly the billboards you see on the Sunset Strip are clothing ads.”
Laundau a well known photographer who has traveled all over the world, captured the photos included in the book on Kodachrome slides. The images, mainly taken in the late 1970s, survived through different technologies and into the present day digital age.
Landau is a well-traveled and social photographer-author. In addition to his photographs, there are amazing stories that go with the many of the billboards.
On a Beatles poster, Paul’s head was removed by a vandal. Landau actually reached out and contacted the man who is in possession of the cardboard head today.
Landau said it was a labor of love curating the photos for the book and putting together the background information that accompanies the photographs.
“When I told them I was doing a book about the billboards, the people who created them were so thrilled,” he said. “So much time went into the billboards, and they’ve disappeared, so the people who created them were very happy about the book.”
Landau has endured the ups and downs in a remarkable career capturing images around the world. While it may be challenging to find that kind of work today, the photographer and author says it is possible.
“Follow your passion,” he said. “Find the niche you’re passionate about and you’ll have success.”