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Interview: Baron Wolman's WOODSTOCK – Exhibition Opening and Book Signing

Interview Baron Wolman's WOODSTOCK – Exhibition Opening and Book Signing photo-eye Bookstore + Project space is excited to announce WOODSTOCK, an exhibition of images from the legendary concert by classic rock photographer Baron Wolman. The exhibition opens on Friday January 15th from 5–7pm, and Wolman will be signing copies of his accompanying book WOODSTOCK.
Woodstock 69436-14a , August, 1969, Bethel, NY – Baron Wolman

photo-eye Bookstore + Project space is excited to announce WOODSTOCK, an exhibition of images from the legendary concert by classic rock photographer Baron Wolman. The exhibition opens on Friday January 15th from 5–7pm, and Wolman will be signing copies of his accompanying book WOODSTOCK. Wolman's black-and-white images captured the experience and atmosphere of Woodstock like no other photographer. More interested in the crowd than the performers, his photographs are hugely evocative and offer an insight into this legendary event that is rarely seen. photo-eye's Lucas Shaffer interviewed Wolman about what the historic event was like, and how the book came to be published.

Lucas Shaffer:     How did you get the gig to photograph at Woodstock? Was it something you decided to do yourself or was it an assignment from Rolling Stone?

 Woodstock 69433-10, August, 1969, 
Bethel, NY – Baron Wolman
Baron Wolman:     Woodstock took place in August 1969 and earlier that year, interestingly enough, another well known rock and roll photographer and myself — his name is Jim Marshall — got a contract to do a book called Festival: The Book of American Music Celebration, so we went all around the country to all kinds of music festivals that summer. When we started Woodstock wasn't even on our itinerary because we didn't know about it, and about halfway through the summer we said "Hey, something is going on at Woodstock, we'd better go there too." So we went there for the book, but because I was working for Rolling Stone at the time I had a double assignment, basically.

LS:     What was the experience like?

BW:     Well here's the deal, when I got there I'd never seen so many people in my life. Nobody had, there had never been a concert like this. There have been many since but there had never been any at that time and it was mind-boggling. So I took a look at the musicians who were playing and most of them I'd already photographed for Rolling Stone, so I was more interested in the the people who were attending and the event itself — kind of taking a photojournalistic look at what the heck was going on and how did this happen. What's it like? What are the memories? What are the people like? —you know. So essentially this book is a collection of photographs from the point of view of the people who attended as opposed to the musicians — although there are a few musicians photographed in [the book], mostly I was fascinated by the people and mostly that is what this book is about.

Woodstock 69433-17, August, 1969, 
Bethel, NY – Baron Wolman
LS:     I get that impression from the pictures I've seen. Since you were already assigned to photograph concerts, did any of your images from Woodstock end up in that original Festivals book?

BW:     Oh yes, absolutely — they did a whole chapter on Woodstock, how could you overlook it? If you take 1969, we covered the Memphis Blues Festival, the Anarbor Blues Festival, the Big Sur Folk Festival, and the Newport Folk Festival — there were a lot of festivals but nothing, nothing came close to the graphic power and feeling of being in Bethel, NY. You can't even imagine, man.

LS:     How was Woodstock different? Was it just sheer scale or was there something else about it too?

BW:     There was a lot else. First of all there was no music festival of that scale at that time. After that promoters thought "Hey, we can do big festivals and make big money," so then Glastonbury started, and Atlanta Pop Festival happened. Now, the thing about Woodstock is it was a festival for the counter culture, and a gathering of those people and produced for those people. There were over 300,000 people for three and a half days. There was no violence — unbelievable. I'll tell you something else — there were no branded t-shirts. You look at all the pictures you won't see a branded t-shirt. Now you look, you can't go anywhere without seeing a branded t-shirt. You know what else wasn't there? No sneakers — no Nike, no Adidas — none of that stuff. So it really was the beginning of a sea-change in youth dress, in youth culture, in youth gatherings, the end and the beginning of an era. At least it was from my point of view.

LS:     I didn't notice that but you make a great observation. Having been to a festival fairly recently myself, the modern experience is completely branded. Locations have sponsors, events have sponsors, tents have sponsors. Being the first of its kind, it seems like, looking back, Woodstock was pretty pure in a sense.

BW:     That's funny, that's the word I was just going to use. The whole experience was pure. It was not infected by big business yet. There were a lot of funny things that went on at the concert, and you get a better sense of that when you look at the pictures — there's one shot where someones dealing pot in the book — you'll see.

Contact Sheets from WOODSTOCK by  Baron Wolman

LS:     Well tell me a little bit more about the book itself; how did it get started? How did you choose to put it together at this point?

BW:     It wasn't my idea. A friend of mine produces books, and he'd produced a small book called Woodstock, but it was little , like 5"x7", 24 pages. And he was like, "Hey Baron we should do a real book about Woodstock." His name is Dagon James, and I was like, "Dagon, I don't have enough pictures for a book," and he was like, "You gotta be kidding, of course you have enough pictures!" and I said, "Well, if you think so, put it together." So he talked me into doing it. I sent him all the digital files, all the pictures, all the contact sheets, and from that he made the book. From there I went over to Las Vegas, where Carlos Santana lives, and interviewed him for the forward. There's even a long conversation between myself and Michael Lang, the producer of the whole thing, in the back of the book as well as all my contact sheets from all the film I shot those three days.

LS:     Ok, wow that is really something special.

BW:     Yeah man it's a great fucking book, it really is. The other thing is the book is beautifully reproduced. I've never had a book of my pictures reproduced so beautifully by a printing press.  The whole thing is beautifully beautifully beautifully produced.

LS:     So how did the editing process work between you and Dagon?

BW:     It was mutual. We discussed the pace of the book, the sequence, how the pictures appear, and what you'll see when you start going through it is what I saw as I approached Woodstock — the people by the side of the road, the long lines of traffic, the cars — you get a sense of what it was going to be and then, suddenly, you're there.

Woodstock 69435-5-A, August, 1969, Bethel, NY – Baron Wolman

LS:     What has the reaction been like after the book was published? Any interesting responses?

BW:     There have been several people who've seen the book who have found themselves in the photos. Anybody who finds themselves has all kinds of stories about their Woodstock experience.

There's one other picture I'll tell you about — there's a picture with cows in the foreground. The reason that image is significant is that Woodstock took place in an area of dairy farms, so there are the cows and the teepees and all that shit behind them, right? So what happened was that the cows were so traumatized by all the people and by the music that for a month they refused to give milk. All the dairy farmers tried to sue the Woodstock organization for loss of income.

LS:     Is there any reason why many of these images haven't been seen prior to this publication?

BW:     Some of the images were published in Rolling Stone and some of them were exhibited, and another guy and I put together a book of Woodstock photos from about 10 different photographers, and some of [my images] were there, but I don't know why I didn't publish them. Some of them you wouldn't show individually but seen together in the collection they make sense because I'm trying to paint a picture of what it was like to have been there — and that's what the book is about.

Baron Wolman: WOODSTOCK will be on view at the photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space through Saturday, February 27th. If you have any additional questions, or are interested in purchasing a print please contact:
Woodstock Trade Edition & Woodstock Limited Edition Books

Christopher J. Johnson
505.988.5152 x113

Lucas Shaffer
505.988.5152 x114

View the Woodstock images

Purchase the monograph