Photographer’s book zooms in on Rolling Stone careerWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Miles Davis fired up his Ferrari and took him for a drive. He roamed the stage at Woodstock in 1969. And Janis Joplin performed a private concert just for him.
He is Baron Wolman. As Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, he chronicled the music scene for the publication from 1967 to 1970.
“For the most part, it was just working. It was a fun job,” he said. “At the time, there was no context, you know, like this was really cool; it was just that’s what we’re doing today.
“The thing with Janis, I knew at the time that was very special.”
Wolman shares special memories, classic photos and the stories behind them in “The Rolling Stone Years.” Released by Omnibus Press in August, the 176-page book features icons from Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead to George Harrison, Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan, and Ike & Tina Turner.
“I knew I was documenting a very important part of American history; the changes that were taking place were phenomenal and very visual,” he said during a call from his home in Santa Fe, N.M. “I was another guy with a camera working hard to take pictures of an important time in San Francisco.”
He was 30 years old and living in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, the year Rolling Stone began publishing.
“So many of the people that I photographed lived in the Haight also; it wasn’t as though you were seeing rock stars, you were just seeing neighbors. See Janis walking down the street, see The Dead walking, Jefferson Airplane hanging out,” Wolman said.
What was his strangest job?
“The most crazy situation had to be with Frank Zappa at his house because I was a little concerned about getting along with Frank because he was so smart and, musically, he’s a creative eccentric, and I didn’t know what I was going to get when I got there,” Wolman recalled. “It turned out he was in some kind of Frank Zappa mood to play around with me and the camera.”
Who was the shyest subject?
“Tiny Tim was reluctant to be photographed or interviewed, so [the writer and I] brought him a bouquet of daisies and, for some reason, that touched his heart,” Wolman said.
The most photogenic musician?
“Jimi Hendrix was always moving. Not only was he a phenomenal guitarist, he was a great performer,” the 74-year-old said. “Being on stage with Jimi Hendrix was phenomenal; I couldn’t stop taking pictures.”
The Ohio native started shooting during high school in Columbus.
“The moment I picked up a camera and looked through the viewfinder and could isolate moments that meant something to me, the camera became my friend,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to take pictures. It was so meaningful, so wonderful, so special.”
Wolman was known for his photojournalistic style: “Maybe it was more honest; this is the world I saw in front of me at the moment and that is the world I wanted to reflect. I didn’t want to create a world. Annie Leibovitz went on — to her credit — and did very well at creating reality.
“I was more interested in, who are these people? How do they behave? I wanted them to give me, as the Native Americans say, a little piece of their soul when I photographed them.
“A good photo should cause you to pause for a moment to look at it for some reason or there’s something there you want to take a second look at,” Wolman said. “It should, in that moment, give you a little bit more information about what it means to be alive.”
Tags: Annie Leibovitz, Baron Wolman, Bob Dylan, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, George Harrison, Grateful Dead, Ike & Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Rolling Stone, Tiny Tim