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Remembering Bob Seidemann Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

18 December 2017

Bob Seidemann, who photographed rock stars and aviators, passed away from Parkinson's disease late last month at his home in Vallejo, Calif. He was 75.

Seidemann was born in New York City and raised in Woodside, Queens, near LaGuardia Airport, where he fell in love with airplanes.

A learning disability made it difficult for him to read, so he attended the Manhattan High School of Aviation Trades. After graduating from the trade school, he found a job delivering film for a lab, which opened his eyes to the marvelous worlds of studio photography.

He would deliver film to the studios, getting off the elevator only to walk into a beautiful set, unlike anything he saw on the street.

He soon got a job as photo assistant in Tom Caravaglia's commercial studio, before Caravalia began documenting modern dance.

Seidemann developed an interest in beatnik culture and a passion for jazz that led him to San Francisco in the 1960s because that was the happening scene.

'And every shot was perfect. He knew what he was doing.'

There he met Belinda, whom he married in 1983. He was 6'2" and "his mouth was as big as he was," Belinda said. Which came in handy when he began shooting unruly rock bands.

He knew Dave Getz, the drummer for Big Brother and the Holding Company and a part-time cook at the Old Spaghetti Factory. That's how he met Big Brother, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. And how he became their photographer.

He moved to England in 1968, staying for a while with Eric Clapton, whom he had met in San Francisco. He did a notorious album cover for Clapton's new group, showing a young girl holding a model spaceship, "the picture of innocence" holding the future in her hands, Seidemann described it. He called it Blind Faith but the nudity of the girl was controversial.

But it was also a testament to his graphic design skills.

His design for Jackson Browne's 1974 album Late for the Sky, from which our thumbnail is derived, contains a stark image of a single burning light underneath a cloud-filled sky and was inspired by a painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

His friend and fellow photographer Douglas Brian Martin remembered Seidemann showing up for a shoot about 15 years ago with just his Hasselblad and no light meter. "He said, 'I don't need a light meter.'," Martin recalled. "And every shot was perfect. He knew what he was doing."

From 1985 to 2000 he photographed portraits of test pilots like Chuck Yeager and Tex Johnson, military heroes like Gen. James H. Doolittle and Ben Rich, project chief for Lockheed's design of the F-117A stealth fighter.

He produced a series of 302 images collected as The Airplane As Art, which sold at Sothebys in 2000 for $236,750.

He said airplanes were the byproducts of our ancient dream to fly. "I look upon the machines themselves as objects of art, a result of the creative process."

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