One of the greatest photographers of all times, Baron Wolman succeeded to write the rock-and-roll history in images. The lens of his camera captured the royalty of the ‘60s pop and rock explosion – Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Jim Morison, Ike & Tina Turner, and the list could go on as Baron’s endless stories about his amazing work and cool life. He moved from Berlin to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco, later to New Mexico and he made an unforgettable journey through the world of photography starting with the Berlin Wall and moving to rock stars, street fashion, nudes and landscapes. He was the first photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, he showed the real Woodstock to the world, he created Rags fashion magazine, he even learned how to fly for his work and finally he released an auto-biographical, image-heavy book, Baron Wolman: Every Picture Tells A Story, the Rolling Stone Years.
Everybody knows you as the rock-and-roll most famous photographer. But who is the real Baron Wolman?
The real Baron Wolman is just a nice guy who loves life, who loves cameras and who loves women…
When did you discover your passion for photography and for music?
I discovered my passion for photography the first time I took a camera in my hands and looked through the viewfinder. It felt so natural, as if taking pictures was something I was born to do. My passion for music really emerged in the Haight-Ashbury when I went to the free concerts in Golden Gate Park and later to the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
You wrote in images, an important part of rock-and-roll history, being part of it while happening. How did you feel there, close to the stage, close to those rock and roll legends?
When I photographed the musicians for Rolling Stone they were not yet legends, so for me I was basically photographing hugely talented musicians. The closer to the stage, the more intimate the photographs. I had no idea my photos would become a part of music history. For me it was the passion and joy of photography mixed with the excitement of live music.
Did you have a special connection / friendship with some of those artists?
Not really because they would come to town, I would photograph them and they would continue on their tour to the next town. I did become friendly with Janis Joplin and Steve Miller (Steve Miller Blues Band) and we all knew each other, we lived in the same neighborhood. But I didn’t hang out with the musicians because at the time I was married to a professional ballet dancer and had “home and love responsibilities” to fulfill.
Among all the other rock legends, you’ve met Jimi Hendrix. I can’t help myself to ask you about him. How was that feeling to see him live? And how was he as a person, behind the stage?
Seeing Jimi Hendrix live, being onstage with him and my camera, was a magical experience. Not only was he a hugely talented musician, he was a great visual performer. Which means we, the audience (and the photographers) received the music and the performance together – unbelievable. I always say it was impossible to take a bad photo of Jimi. Behind the stage he was a big surprise, very quiet and respectful and intelligent. Sometimes he would talk so soft that it was difficult to hear him.
Do you remember a very special moment that happened to you while shooting?
I remember Jimi Hendrix pointing directly at me and my camera while he was playing his guitar. I remember Steven Tyler of Aerosmith flipping me the bird, giving me the finger, directly to the camera while he was performing onstage. Both are very personal, very special photographic moments.
Did ever happen to you to fall in love with the women you captured on camera (celebrities or not)? How did this passion go?
I always fall in love with the women I photograph; for me it is natural, part of the process. Sometimes it is a “soul love”, a spirit in the sky, sometimes it is the love expressed in the photos themselves, sometimes the passion was “realized” during the photo session, on the seamless background in the studio or elsewhere, like in the film “Blow-Up.” I was very lucky…!!!
I’m sure that every picture you took tells a story and that each of them is special to you, but you must have an image which you really love the most of all. Which one is this and why is it so special to you?
Not true. I love so many of my images. I love the iconic photo of Jimi Hendrix. I love “Margaret Undressing”. I love photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from my airplane. If you have children (my photos are my children), do you have one you love most of all…??? Not possible.
Your pictures are very valuable now. Which is the most expensive of your works that has been sold by now and which was its price?
Sometimes I get money for selling prints, sometimes I get money for a photo license. My best print sale was a collection purchased by one buyer – Jagger, Ike & Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, etc. Each print, very large, on brushed aluminum, was more than $20,000…!!! My best license was in Italy for Liu Jeans, for a photo of Jimi Hendrix; $30,000. From this money came many nice dinners with good wine…
How would you describe the Woodstock experience?
For that I need a book (www.celebratingwoodstock.com). Woodstock was such a surprise. So many people in one place to hear music… first time ever. Nobody expected such a large crowd. And the crowd was peaceful, no violence, even with not enough food, not enough water, not good sanitation, mud and heat – still, everybody was friendly and happy. It was a life experience promised by the children of the ‘60s. For the weekend of Woodstock we proved that the dream of the ‘60s could come true. Of course, after Woodstock, unfortunately the dream became a nightmare, everywhere in the world…
How did you switch from music to fashion? What made you create Rags?
It was easy to switch to fashion because fashion is so visual, fashion makes great subjects for a photographer. True fashion is about lifestyle, not just clothes – and that was the point of view of Rags…much more than simple the clothes. We called Rags “the Rolling Stone of Fashion” because we looked at fashion from a new perspective, just as Rolling Stone looked at music from a new perspective. In the ‘60s came many changes…in music, in politics, and in clothes and hair and body decoration. These changes could be seen, could be photographed. That was what I loved – you could actually see the changes. Also, I had already photographed a lot of music; for me it was also time for a career change.
Do you think that there’s something left for your camera lens to see, any area you didn’t reach yet as a photographer and you’d like to do it?
Good question. I ask myself this all the time. So far, no answer to this question…
While being awarded as a VIP at the 2011 Classic Rock Roll of Honor Awards, you smashed a camera on stage in homage to Pete Townshend. What did you want your gesture to show? What means Pete Townshend to you?
My first concert assignment for Rolling Stone was to photograph the Who in San Francisco. At that concert Pete Townshend smashed his guitars. This was strange for me; like smashing a camera. How could he make music with a broken guitar? How could I take photos with a broken camera? But I saw that he enjoyed the smashing and so I wanted to see if I could also enjoy the smashing. It was quite an experience, I can tell you that! And a big surprise, Pete Townshend was in the audience of the Honor Awards. I had no idea…
What’s your most important belief as a photographer?
It is important for a photographer to know why he/she takes pictures. Is it a hobby, is it a profession, is it to make money, or is it the deep expression from the soul, a manifestation of the individual’s unique personality? For me photography comes from the heart, like the music of Mozart came from his heart. I don’t have to think about making a picture, the photograph emerges not from me but through me as if a divine spirit is helping me to make my art, to make beautiful and meaningful photographs.
How did you succeed to capture the perfect images? What’s your secret?
My best picture are made when I involve myself with the subject, whether a person (musician or otherwise) or a landscape, and then framing carefully so what I have seen in the camera can be communicated to the viewers. Framing the image is one of the most important elements to creating a successful photograph.
Which are the photographic projects you work at, in this moment?
I have recently sold my entire photographic archive to a company in the U.K., called Iconic Images. Now they are making an amazing book from my groupie photos; after that together we are planning for many exhibits around the world. For me personally, I am still looking for another “project” to become obsessed with, although in the end life itself is the only project.
Who do you consider reference points for photography, fashion and music? Who are your icons in these fields?
As is true for many photojournalists, also for me, Henri Cartier-Bresson established the level of excellence and truth in vision for this type, my type, of “documentary” photography. For fashion, for sure Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were my big inspirations. For music, the only inspiration was my friend, the late Jim Marshall. He was the master of both vision and technique in the field of music photography.
As I said earlier, I would like to know Baron Wolman – the man, too. How would you describe your personality, your style?
We must meet in person, Raluca. Then YOU can describe my personality and my style with great accuracy…
What hobbies do you have? What do you like most in your life?
I love women, as you know, and seek their company as friends. I like taking pictures, I love to travel, and I enjoy visiting my people everywhere in the world. Listening to live music is always a joy, making books and exhibiting my work is very fulfilling, and, of course, sitting in cafes for hours solving the problems of the world is the best way to relax…
At some point in your life you learned how to fly in order to shoot amazing landscapes. How would you describe this time of your life? How far would you go for your passion?
For many years I had wanted to fly but I worried it might be impossible for me to learn. However, in my late 30s I said to myself “it’s now or never!” Four of us bought a small plane together: 3 men and 1 woman. We all had different instructors. My favorite instructor was a woman…of course. I loved the freedom and the exhilaration of flight – it became my passion, my obsession. I flew the plane, opened the window and took pictures as I controlled the plane! I took landscape pictures from the plane and pictures of other planes flying next to me. It was magical. One day as I was returning home the engine of my plane stopped in mid-air. Fortunately, I was near an airport and landed safely. After that my passion and my obsession became less, like a love that weakens unexpectedly. When I moved to Santa Fe I sold my airplane and have not flown since…
Interview published on Trend Prive Magazine