The man on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV has been identified 52 years later
Reportedly, he was a 19th-century thatcher from Mere, Wiltshire by the name of Lot Long.
Credit: Wiltshire Museum / Michael Putland/Getty Images
The identity of the man pictured in Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV album cover has long been shrouded in mystery, until now.
Brian Edwards – of the University of the West of England (UWE) – says he’s confident that the man – hunched over carrying sticks on his back – was likely a 19th-century thatcher by the name of Lot Long, from Mere, Wiltshire. And the man who took the photo was one Ernest Farmer.
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“I instantly recognised the man with the sticks – he’s often called the stick man,” says Edwards, a long-time Led Zep fan, who found the original picture while looking through a photo album for other research. “It was quite the revelation,” he adds [via BBC Radio Wiltshire].
According to the BBC, Wiltshire Museum has since acquired the photograph and plans to showcase it in an exhibition next year.
Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was officially untitled, but because it’s difficult to talk about an album that doesn’t have a name, it became colloquially known as Led Zeppelin IV. Released in 1971, it played host to some of the band’s biggest tracks, including Black Dog and Stairway to Heaven.
Some fans assumed that the album cover was a photo of a painting, which was reportedly discovered by lead singer Robert Plant at an antique shop near Jimmy Page’s house in Berkshire.
However, it turns out that the picture in the frame on the album cover is actually a colourised photo.
Brian Edwards – who is a member of the regional history centre at UWE – has explained how he landed on the assumption that the original photographer was Ernest Farmer.
Starting with the only tangible clue – that the photo album had the photographer’s first name, Ernest – Edwards guessed that the photos were professional by their quality, and then began researching chemists, as many of them were also involved in photography at the time.
He found a chemist working in Salisbury, near where the picture was taken, who had a son named Ernest Farmer, and then found his handwriting on the internet.
The elder Farmer was apparently the first head of the school of photography at the newly-renamed Polytechnic Regent Street, now the University of Westminster.
“Part of the signatures matches some of the handwriting in the album,” Edwards says. “The black and white photograph has a thumbprint in the corner – it looks like it’s the original.”
As per BBC, the photo album contains mostly views and architecture from south Wiltshire and Dorset. It is titled: “Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest.”
David Dawson, director of Wiltshire Museum, says next year’s exhibition will be called The Wiltshire Thatcher: a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex, and will celebrate Ernest Farmer’s work.
“We will show how Farmer captured the spirit of people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire and Dorset that were so much of a contrast to his life in London,” he says.
“It is fascinating to see how this theme of rural and urban contrasts was developed by Led Zeppelin and became the focus for this iconic album cover 70 years later.”