Woodstock by Baron Wolman – unseen photographs from the most famous music festival of all time

Just so Baron Wolman ‘had a hobby’, he took up photography.  He realised it was more than that, when his photos of the Berlin Wall going up in 1961 were published in full by his local newspaper. This was a momentous moment, for him – Baron thought it was going to be World War III and it was a great moment for the art of photography. He was paid $50 dollars and his hobby became his career.

At a Q&A with Woodstock founder Michael Lang, Baron tells the story of the most famous music festival of all time.

Michael Lang (centre) and Baron Wolman talking Woodstock to Peter Doggett

Michael Lang (centre) and Baron Wolman talking Woodstock

Early Sixties music was only being covered by the trade press and Rolling Stone Magazine was founded to speak to musicians and those who loved music.  Baron was asked to invest $10,000 in the venture but he said no, but he would shoot for free, and he would own the copyright to his work.

The fruits of that work can now be seen in ‘Woodstock’ an exhibition of Baron Wolman’s photography at Forge & Co Gallery, London E1 from 27 June to 8 July 2014 and in the book ‘Woodstock’ by Baron Wolman published by www.reelartpress.com at £29.95. 

Woodstock by Baron Norman

Woodstock by Baron Norman from Reel Art Press

Baron Wolman’s career began with fellow photographer Jim Marshall as they scoured the US for their book ‘Festival! The Book of American Music Celebrations.’ But they had never seen anything like this before.

After his 1968 music event in Coconut Grove, Florida, Michael Lang wanted to set up a studio and thought to scale up his festival to 200,000 people.  As a kid he had been driven through Woodstock on the way to family holidays and remembered it as an arts colony, lazy and creative.

Michael found a farm nearby but they didn’t want people drinking beer, then he secured the Mills Industrial Park but the ‘town fathers’ passed a law banning the event before eventually finding a swamp site in Bethel. It was the biggest dairy farm in the area and the farmer, Max Yasgur, had a bad summer for growing hay and needed money. He accepted $50,000 for the rent of this magical bowl – even as, from his oxygen tent, he dismissed them as ‘long-haired freaks’.

Michael admits to overpaying the artists as he was then unknown in the music business. An event for 50,000 turned into half a million people.

Baron recalls that he rushed over to the festival likening it to the biggest thing since the invasion of Normandy, a unique event that had to be recorded and would, he thought even then, be studied in history.

Over four days Baron toured the site and having taken pictures of all the bands previously for Rolling Stone he was more interested in recording the audience as the star of the show.

Michael Lang had a team analysing what was good and bad about other festivals and why some of them got violent.  Ticketing was a big problem so there were free stages and free kitchen provisions. He had people time how long it took to go the toilet so that he could get the portable toilet numbers right.

One of the astounding performances of Woodstock 1969 was Star Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix who had asked to close the show – that turned out to be at 9 am on the Monday morning after the weekend. Only 30 or 40,000 of the half million people there saw it. Michael tells that The Who were keen to get the hell out of there as they didn’t get the ‘hippy shit’, Grateful Dead got high with Carlos Santana who hallucinated his guitar was a metal snake around his neck.

Michael reckons Woodstock changed everyone, how they interacted with each other and says it gave him faith in the human race.

Looking at the faces in those pictures, we have to agree.

baron Wolman Woodstock

‘Woodstock’ an exhibition of Baron Wolman’s photography at Forge & Co Gallery, London E1 from 27 June to 8 July 2014


Woodstock is coming to Woodstock

The Center for Photography at Woodstock and  The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
signing copies of Baron Wolman’s landmark photography book, Woodstock.

Saturday, July 18th
Center For Photography at Woodstock
59 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY 12498

 Sunday, July 19th
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
200 Hurd Road, Bethel, NY 12720

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