Jueves, julio 7th, 2016 | T: lamono
The history of rock ‘n’ roll is amazing, a tale of evolution, a process where many musical genres merge and which started in the 1950s with ‘The King’, Elvis Presley; even a bit earlier if we take into account figures like Chuck Berry and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. In it we can find tinges of blues, country, swing, jazz, folk and more, though its true awakening, the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, as we know it today, happened throughout the ‘60s. It was then when Baron Wolman started to portray the main musicians that would rise up and become part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wolman, a self-taught photographer, is considered a legend of music photography; he was one of the founders of Rolling Stone magazine and its first chief photographer. During this period he photographed bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, as well solo acts like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and superstars such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. He was also present at Woodstock, where he managed to capture a unique photographic record of this festival that would change once and for all the history of music events and his youth. We had the chance of talking to him a few days before his exhibition during the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid, which will happen from the 16th to the 19th of June.
Thanks to your work, you met some of the most legendary exponents of rock ‘n’ roll, each one completely different to the other. ¿Did you have a good relationship with all of them? Well, I had a good relationship with the guys of Grateful Death, also with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, but you must have into account that I started working with them before they were stars and had fifty guys following them everywhere. It was a different time. Whenever you visited them backstage they were by themselves, tuning their instruments, that was it. Jerry Garcia was my neighbor, you could call Jimi at his own house… as I said, times were different back then.
How did you start shooting photos of these iconic musicians? I started because a group of loonies created a magazine called Rolling Stone and they were aware that I was hanging out with musicians everywhere and that I knew everybody. I wasn’t paid a single dime, but I definitely had a good time. Everyone was ok with me snapping pictures, because –basically- we were only two or three guys doing so, then, I would publish the ones that I wanted since I was the one who decided what got published. It was a win-win situation for me.
During those times you were living through one of the most important musical movements in history ¿Do you think that could happen again nowadays? No, it will never be as it was, because music was pure back then, it was all that mattered. From the viewpoint of a photographer, it’s impossible to be granted that kind of access again –ok, I think at the Mad Cool I’ll be allowed to say hello to my friends from The Who and Neil Young-, nor do some of the things I was allowed to do; one day Jerry Garcia came to my studio and told me, ‘Baron, I’m missing a finger, I want you to take a picture of my hand so everyone can see that I’m missing a finger’. Can you imagine something like that now? I can’t. Nowadays everything is Photoshop, photomontages and pictures of paparazzi. That doesn’t interest me at all.
Do you think Woodstock was one of the most important music festivals in history? Why? Woodstock has been the most important music festival in history because before it no one imagined something like that could be possible. If you look at the line-up, the audience, the spirit… No one who wasn’t there can imagine what it was, because it’s unrepeatable, it has never been matched, not even at Woodstock itself.
What’s the most important thing you have learned throughout your photographic career? To not fake anything, to shoot raw pictures without tricks, to not let anyone tell me how a picture must be, and to remain true to my principles. Also, to not drink excessively until the work is done.
Woodstock was the temple of an idea condemned to die, but for three days it allowed us to dream of a better world
How did your story with Rolling Stone begin? A few guys from my neighborhood told me they wanted to start a music magazine that would really talk about music. I thought it was bullshit, but I offered them my total support. As I was going here and there with a camera around my neck, they said they wanted me to be their only photographer. I asked them how much was I going to get paid and they answered that nothing. I thought it was a fair deal. That’s the story, more or less.
What was the craziest situation you experienced during your career at Rolling Stone magazine? I got myself in a lot of trouble, especially when the drugs and the groupies appeared, and the dealers and bodyguards, basically because when that happened the music scene was a big mess.
And the worst? The worst was the death of Jimi Hendrix. I still don’t understand it. He didn’t need drugs to play music and he did not have an addictive personality; his death remains to be something unexplainable to me, and it really vexed me.
Which picture, of the ones you have shot, is the most important for you? I cannot say, I’m sorry. I’ve done hundreds and I love them all.
You had the opportunity of documenting one of the most important events from the beginning of a huge countercultural movement, Woodstock ¿How was that experience? That’s a good question, because most people believe Woodstock was nothing more than a music event, when it actually was the gathering of an immense community that until then had been scattered in thousand different places, and which for the first time was answering its call. All that space filled with people smiling, sharing the same ideas, without one single fight, without one single frown. Woodstock was the temple of an idea condemned to die, but for three days it allowed us to dream of a better world.
How did your passion for rock and roll and photography start? For me, they are both the same thing; the kids from my neighborhood picked the guitar and I picked the camera and, curiously, we all ended up in the same place. Music has always fascinated me one way or another, and photography is my life, but I cannot understand one without the other. Most probably, if I hadn’t become a photographer, I would be a musician… a bad one though.
Your pictures still have a big influence on photographers nowadays ¿How do you feel about that? Great, it makes me feel very proud. You always strive to do things the best you can so that other people can appreciate them, but the idea of transcending your own generation is a wonderful thing, and I’m very grateful you would say something like that.
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