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Man featured on Led Zeppelin IV album cover identified 52 years after its release

Identity of figure pictured on rock band’s fourth album cover has long been shrouded in mystery

Inga Parkel
Thursday 09 November 2023 06:30 GMT
Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Cage on the making of Stairway to Heaven

The 52-year-old mystery surrounding the figure featured on Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album cover has finally been solved.

The identity of the man – hunched over with a pile of sticks balancing on his back – on the iconic 1971 Led Zeppelin IV record has long been shrouded in mystery.

However, his identity has now been discovered to be that of Lot Long, a Victorian-era Wiltshire thatcher.

According to The New York Times, Brian Edwards, a visiting research fellow at the University of the West of England, was “scouring the internet for new releases at auction houses that might be interesting for his research, which includes the area’s well-known landmark Stonehenge” when he came across a photo album.

When he stumbled on the photo, he told the Times that “there was something familiar about it straight away”.

After calling his wife for a “sanity check”, they both agreed that it was, in fact, the black-and-white version of the photo that had been used for the four-piece band’s best-selling album.

It’s believed that Led Zeppelin’s frontman Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page were searching an antique shop located in Pangbourne, a village just west of London along the River Thames, when they spotted the original framed and colorised version of Ernest Howard Farmer’s 1800s photo.

‘Led Zeppelin IV’ cover art

Edwards theorises that Farmer, who was also a photography teacher, used the black-and-white image that Edwards discovered to teach his students how to colorise. The original photo has apparently been long lost.

“Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years, so I really hope the discovery of this Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert, Jimmy and John Paul,” Edwards said.

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Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide, and includes the band’s most popular song, “Stairway to Heaven.”

Farmer’s photograph is now in Wiltshire Museum in Devizes where it is due to feature alongside other photos from the west of England in the Victorian era in an exhibition next year.

David Dawson, the director of Wiltshire Museum, said: “The ‘Wiltshire Thatcher: a photographic journey through Victorian Wessex’ exhibition will celebrate the work of Ernest Farmer, who today is little known but was a leading figure in the development of photography as an art form.

“Through the exhibition, 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. 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.”

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