New York photographer Ahron Foster in a single moment captured what I believe could be the greatest music photograph ever snapped—Levon Helm on the cover of his 2007 comeback album, “Dirt Farmer.”
For a musician who we all felt we knew so much about, primarily from his time with The Band, the look on Levon’s face that Ahron captured with his camera says so much about all that we didn’t know about him. Levon when “Dirt Farmer” was released was at a major turning point in his life and career. He was facing personal challenges that many of us couldn’t imagine and he was likely experiencing emotions that many of us could absolutely relate to, including frustration, resolution and anticipation.
The farm where the photograph was taken underscores Levon’s lifelong connection to dirt and land and rock and home. This all began for Levon on his family’s cotton farm in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas; it continued with his beloved home and recording studio in Woodstock, New York; and it all seemed to culminate, in a sense, with an album that embodied it all—”Dirt Farmer.”
I just can’t get enough of that album because of that which it represents to me—faith, redemption and renewal. Of course, “Dirt Farmer” also embodies Levon’s Midnight Ramble house concerts, as the record is a snapshot, pardon the pun, from that incredibly successful era of Levon’s life. “Dirt Farmer” won a Grammy and quite often, when I think of Levon Helm, I think of Ahron Foster’s cover photo. I’m sure many would say the same thing.
Ahron’s work with Levon also extended to “Electric Dirt,” the album he released after “Dirt Farmer.”
I bring all of this up because Ahron today is launching a Kickstarter campaign for a book of his photographs he will be publishing in the soon future. Click here to learn more and get in on the whole deal.
I’ve been following Ahron’s photography for years, ever since I randomly met him as I was leaving a 2007 performance by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and the band Ollabelle—which features Levon’s daughter Amy as a member—at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. I’ve been following Ahron’s career ever since and keeping a keen eye on his photographs because, just like a great song, Ahron’s photos tell a compelling story.
The new book, in addition to photos of Levon, will feature a range of other musicians and bands, including Amy Helm; Ollabelle; Chris Bergson; Jay Collins; Jim Keller, Alex & Janel and IKP, the Infamous King of Positivity.
At this point, I’ll turn things over to Ahron:
“I’m a New York City photographer recently transplanted to the Hudson Valley with my wife, daughter and my mother and I’m loving it. I get to be in the city and the country. I work mainly in the music and theater worlds creating portraiture, shooting behind the scenes and capturing live performances.
“For me, photography is a collaboration, especially with musicians. I like to listen to their music and go over their lyrics before a shoot. I want to be able to tell their story with a single image. I come from a theater background. We were always striving for truth in the moment. I feel like those years of training have influenced my photography—trying to capture that one moment of truth on film. It’s a journey, we create a common language.
“I am very excited to be publishing a book of the last 20 years of my music photography. It has been a goal of mine for the past handful of years. I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign on Thursday, May 13th to crowd fund the book with pre-sales, fine art prints and special campaign-only rewards. The book will feature photos from local talent to international rock icons—something for everyone.
“I can’t wait until October when the book is released, to share never-seen photos of Levon Helm from the ‘Dirt Farmer’ and ‘Electric Dirt’ sessions. Levon fans will truly love these new images pulled from the archives: Levon performing, photos from album shoots and some beautiful and funny behind-the-scenes moments that will bring back great memories. Working with Levon changed my life for the better. Also, Amy Helm has been so supportive of this project and I couldn’t be more appreciative.”
Ahron will be sharing a portion of the profits from the sale of his book with Levon Helm Studios, also known as The Barn, where Levon held his Midnight Rambles and which continues to host live music today.