“We are Stardust, we are golden (slight return)…’
Back to the garden! Baron Wolman dusts down his unseen images of Woodstock
It’s hard to imagine, at this late date, that there’s much new to learn about the first Woodstock festival. Nevertheless baron Wolman, Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, has just published a tranche of his Woodstock pictures that have never previously appeared in print. As our spread shows, they often provide a human, intimate perspective on a seismic countercultural event, an understanding that the real action mostly took place some miles from the stage.
“By this time I was kind of bored with shooting the bands onstage,” the eminent Wolman says in Woodstock, “because that’s all I had been doing in San Francisco for years up to that point… I always considered myself a photojournalist rather than strictly a music photographer, which is why I focused mainly on the people and culture of community that weekend. Keep in mind that there had never been a crowd like this before, and the music felt less interesting to me than what appeared to be a tribal gathering of sorts.”
Wolman’s recollections can be understandably romantic, but they’re often usefully underpinned by the images rediscovered from the 20 or so rolls he shot over the festival’s duration. So he can mention that “Everyone getting naked and swimming together so freely without inhibition is an important part of the Woodstock mythology”. But also include a photo [bottom left] that gently suggests the bathing party might have repercussions. “No soaping, shitting, pissing, swimming etc in the drinking water or you might come down with the shits…”
As the festival progresses, of course, you can measure the impact of the elements on Wolman’s increasingly mud-encrusted subjects. A rare trip backstage, though, captures The Band’s Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko protecting their pioneer threads with sensible plastic macs. As Wolman proves time and again in his images, the enduring myths of Woodstock remain potent – and so do some more nuanced realities.