Led Zeppelin Photographer Larry Ratner Discusses ‘Live Dreams’ App
How did you end up taking so many pictures of Led Zeppelin?
Working as a studio photographer in 1971, I spent my days at modeling schools and in the company studio. I was just getting heavily into rock and roll and went to my first Zeppelin show. I was totally blown away. It was pretty amazing and I decided that this was something that I wanted to capture on film. I already felt that I had missed out on seeing them so many times in 1969 and 1970, and was not willing to miss much going forward. It really changed my entire focus on photography as an art. I felt that this was a phenomenon that should be depicted by someone who was really feeling it. So when the 1972 tour was announced, I stayed on top of it so that I could have the best situation for getting some good shots. I continued that approach with each tour, and always found a way to garner access, one way or another.
What was the first show you shot?
San Diego 1972. As a general admission show, it was totally chaotic. I chose to brave my way through the crowd and stationed myself about 6 feet from stage front and center. With the frenetic crowd all around me, pushing, shoving, screaming etc., the biggest challenge there was to get a decent focus and to change film. I took over 400 shots that evening. Approximately 12 film roll changes, and changing lenses back and forth was just as challenging.
Were you on assignment for somebody?
No, my focus at the time was strictly to feed my passion. I didn’t have any thoughts of where it could go commercially. I had a job and was a partner in a studio. This was just for me and was something I really enjoyed. I continued that approach with subsequent tours, and actually turned down many licensing offers, even for years after there was no more Led Zeppelin.
Did you ever meet the band?
Many times. Beginning in ’73, at the beginning of that tour and again later on in the tour. Along the way, you develop relationships with others that are hanging out with the band. The whole scene was, for lack of a better word, competitive. Everybody wanted their ‘moment’. For instance, with some ladies that I was friends with, ‘that moment’ came, where a band member, maybe Robert, would put his arm around the girl and say “See you later, mate!” My best calling card was having a stack of great photos to share.
How did you keep managing to get such great access over the years?
Sometimes it was a temporary relationship of sorts, for example one that I had with Peter Grant (the band’s manager). He actually gave me total access to one show in ’73, to be on the stage while they were playing, as long as I didn’t get in the way. Even though earlier in the year, and he had forgotten, that I was the one who, in front of 50,000 people, walked out in front of Bonzo during the drum solo. At the beginning of the ’75 tour, I left no stone unturned. I made sure that the Tour Manager allowed me to supply them with 25 cases of Dom Perignon champagne, much of it delivered to their private jet. I brought an attractive lady around to meet Robert and he and Bonzo spent much time looking through my photos. To totally cover myself, I even made sure that through the Chicago Stadium, I garnered first row-dead center tickets for all three shows.
Is Zeppelin your favorite band? What’s your favorite album, today?
Of course! Which album? I would have to say the live ‘How the West Was Won’ set. The studio stuff was always done to the greatest level of perfection possible and they always took a long time in doing that.
But, they were certainly an amazing live band, and the live shows were very different. Besides being such an incredibly synergistic unit live, they were different every night. You could have three nights in a row, even with the same set list, and they wouldn’t be even closely similar, as opposed to many other bands. They just felt their way through, and sometimes some absolutely magnificent things happened. Those ’72 California shows were stellar.
So your photos and memories became the basis for a successful limited edition photo book, ‘Live Dreams,’ already. How did it come to be an iPhone App?
I put the Live Dreams project to bed after the second edition in 1996. Then, last year, I got a call from a software company that said, ‘we saw your book, and we looked at your photos online, we would like to do an iPhone App based on your photography.’ Unfortunately, what they wanted to do with it visually was much different than I had imagined, which was to just create a product out of the photography, which is something that I didn’t want to do. I ended up not working with them, but I decided to move ahead with creating an App. After looking into over a hundred developers from all over the globe to find the right people who could provide the same level of passion, I found this company called Blue Whale. They saw the potential and wanted to be a part of this.
How long did it take to get the whole project together?
We started right around New Year’s. These guys were very smart and passionate, they had great ideas, and they’re quite forgiving when it comes to some of the technical things that I don’t understand. I gave them free reign in terms of coding, and they came up with something that was truly magnificent and exceeded my expectations.
Was there additional work you needed to do, to convert this from a book to an app?
I needed to re-format many of the photos to work with the small format of the iPhone. In addition, I did a lot of extra writing for it. We added in some new stories and descriptions for a lot of the photos, I even did some audio commentary, little stories where I could convey, when you hit the little microphone button, something unique about that photo. Often times, there are some unknown facts that people can hear about from me.
Do you have any future plans for your photos?
We’ll begin development soon on the iPad version, which will be different. We wanted to do the iPhone first, because so many more people have the iPhone. This is compatible with the iPad, but it’s not optimized for it. When we do it for the iPad, with that larger pallet and bigger screen, there’s going to be a lot of things that are different. I think it will emulate the book to an even closer degree.