A new, free exhibition of photographs from the original Woodstock Festival runs in London until September 11. Woodstock By Baron Wolman is a selection of images of the performers at the iconic three-day event which took place in August 1969; with a bill that included Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane, and an estimated audience of 300,000 people who flocked to upstate New York to attend it. Wolman, who was chief photographer at Rolling Stone magazine at the time, considers both of these elements to be equally important.
“By 1969 I had already photographed most of the bands at the festival, so my own interest was in Woodstock as a social event,” he tells Classic Rock. “I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I knew that something was going on that I felt I needed to record. So I concentrated on the experience of being there.
“At the time I had no idea of Woodstock’s future historical significance – how could I?” he continues. “But hindsight tells us the event was incredibly important in America’s social history and also that of the entire western world. It showed that money was there to be made from such huge concerts, but, more importantly, that the whole notion behind the show – peace and music – represented a real way forward. Think about it: the audience was vast, and yet there was no violence.”
Wolman’s images of peopleclimbing the sound tower, ant-like, to secure a better view, or a couple playing an acoustic guitar, sitting on the boot of their car with other vehicles backed up along the highway to the site (both shown, left, along with the Airplane’s Grace Slick) really place us in the moment. Wolman’s own personal favourite image is a panoramic view of the crowd taken with a fish-eye lens. “I stood there centre-stage and used my widest angle lens, and I still couldn’t get in all of the people,” he recalls, laughing. “But that photo, with the horizon at the top, still reminds me of what it was like to be there.
“The other interesting thing is that in the crowd or on the stage you will see no branded T-shirts or even sneakers – none,” he continues. “No Adidas, Nike or Pumas… This was a real significant point of departure in so many ways.”
We will never see Woodstock’s like again, certainly in terms of depths of artistry and, given health and safety concerns, the sheer size of its audience…
“Until Woodstock, the biggest show that Michael Lang [organiser] had put on was for twenty thousand people in Miami on the back of a flatbed truck, so it all evolved from a very simple idea,” Wolman considers. “Michael wanted to prove to the world that the lifestyle had meaning. Woodstock was all about gathering the tribes together. That won’t happen again. These days as everyone knows it’s all about the money – ridiculous artist fees, paid meet-and-greets and exorbitant ticket prices,” he adds. “But back then Woodstock was a pure event. Its unbelievable success was almost an accident. I’m so glad that I was able to be there.”
Woodstock By Baron Wolman runs until September 11 at Proud Gallery in London’s Camden, Monday to Friday 11am until 5pm, and at weekends 11am-4pm. Admission is free. For more details go to www.proud.co.uk