I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the coolest ladies I’ve met in a while. Her name is Robbi Cohn and she runs Dead Images. Dead Images is a company that sells vintage, high-quality Grateful Dead photos, which were all taken by Robbi herself. She has every single image labeled with the date, place and song being played during the photo. Long story short, she’s a BOSS. Check out our quick convo on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Lockn Festival.
Maxx: Ok Robbi, so you mentioned you are the only licensed Grateful Dead photographer correct?
Robbi: Yes. I was the first one and the only one still licensed. I started taking and selling photos in 1984.
Maxx: What got you into photography originally?
Robbi: In high school I took dark room black and white training and got a dark room in my house but then I didn’t take another photo for 13 years.
Maxx: 13 years!? Why?
Robbi: I didn’t really have access to a camera. It was harder to get one in those times. I wish I had but I was easily distracted. You have to remember the era too. It was the 60s and 70s. I was distracted by sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll for years.
Maxx: Haha, Understandable. So what was your first camera?
Robbi: A Pentax 1000. The same as everyones first camera back then haha. But most of the photos that I sell were shot with a Nikon FA with an 80-200 zoom. I shoot with a Nikon d600 now though.
Maxx: So how exactly did you get officially involved with shooting the Grateful Dead?
Robbi: I started shooting pictures and selling them in the parking lot and happened to meet Patricia Harris who worked making the backstage passes and laminates for the band. I started giving Patricia photos for some (Grateful Dead) calendars. Then in 1993 I had some post cards made and sold those in the lot. Wait I have the two cards right here;
When the band saw them though they were like, “OK enough is enough, we’ve been letting you sell photos in the parking lot for a long time but if you are going to start making products you either have to make it official and start paying us royalties or stop altogether.” That was a no brainer. Where do I sign? Then I became the first official licensed photographer for the band. There were a few others throughout the years, but they kind of fell off and now I’m the only one left still licensed.
Maxx: So do you have a favorite photo you have taken from over the years?
Robbi: Probably Birdsong. The one on the banner out there (on the front of the vending booth). It’s the most well known and has been used for the most merchandise. It’s from Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg in 1995. The photo has been used for hang tags, neck ties, a label for Jerry Unwine (which is a non-alcoholic wine), t-shirts, etc. And I have a bootleg screensaver I’m waiting to release. Oh, we also just started having it printed in necklaces and things too.
I kicked it with Robbi for a while behind her vendor tent and talked about music from the weekend. She just had the best vibes and I look forward to crossing paths with her again. If you ever see the Dead Images booth at a festival definitely stop by, say hi, and check out her amazing archive of Grateful Dead photos! This is truly an incredible piece of American history.