After 52 years since the release of Led Zeppelin IV, the enigmatic identity of the man on the album’s cover has finally been unearthed by a historian.
The iconic image portraying an elderly, bearded figure carrying a bundle of wood was reportedly stumbled upon by Robert Plant in an antique store during the album’s production. The photograph, originally discovered in black and white, was colorized and then affixed to the wall of a partly-demolished building for the album cover shoot.
However, it was Brian Edwards who made a breakthrough in 2021. While delving into the pictorial history of Wiltshire, an English county known for its ancient landmarks like Stonehenge and Avebury, Edwards stumbled upon another print of the same image. Subsequent research indicated that the handwriting on both prints matched, linking the picture to a photography teacher named Ernest Howard Farmer. Farmer had captured the image around 1892, identifying the thatcher in the photo as Lot Long, also known as Longyear, a widowed resident of Mere at the time the photograph was taken.
Expressing his connection with Led Zeppelin’s music, Edwards shared his sentiment about the discovery, stating, “Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years.” He hoped the revelation of the Victorian photograph would be a source of pleasure and entertainment for Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones.
This significant finding is set to become a part of an upcoming exhibition titled “The Wiltshire Thatcher: A Photographic Journey Through Victorian Wessex” in 2024. David Dawson, the director of the Wiltshire Museum, expressed excitement about the exhibition’s intent. It will showcase how Farmer’s photography encapsulated the essence of people, villages, and landscapes in Wiltshire and Dorset, providing a sharp contrast to his life in London.
Moreover, the exhibition will delve into the intriguing thematic parallels between rural and urban life, a motif prevalent in both Farmer’s photography and the iconic Led Zeppelin album cover. Dawson emphasized the intriguing interplay between these contrasting themes, remarking how Led Zeppelin had later developed and integrated this theme, which ultimately became the focus of the album cover 70 years later.
The discovery not only sheds light on the mysterious figure on the iconic album cover but also provides a fascinating link between history, photography, and the enduring influence of Led Zeppelin’s music, cementing the album’s cover as a symbol of cross-generational cultural significance.