PHOTOGRAPHY Baron Wolman (pictures of Baron by Tess Parks)
WORDS Tess Parks
Baron Wolman is one of the most inspiring and wickedly talented photographers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone on the planet. His professional photographic career actually began during his tour of duty as an American counter-spy in Berlin. He was on the scene when the Berlin Wall was built and it was his pictures of that historical event that earned him his first photo-paycheck. From there, his life has been truly blessed and fortuitous, becoming the first resident photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine and shooting so many of our musical heroes and their muses from the 1960s.
A spontaneous and magical trip to Santa Fe brought me to him. It was a magnetic impulse on both sides, it seemed like a destined meeting. I can’t express how those three days have forever left an imprint on me. He shared so much wisdom and showed so much hospitality and kindness. It is instantly obvious why he has won over his subjects and captured them in such a beautiful and personal light. From meeting at the airport, it was like reuniting with an old friend, as if we had met a million times before, perhaps in a past life.
TESS PARKS: So, Baron, we met by chance… I was very sick after returning from a festival in Austin and you had a gallery opening in Toronto that I was so looking forward to attending but was too sick to show up to… Then I messaged you a few days after the opening and asked if you were still in Toronto, hoping you were so I could maybe meet up with you and go through the gallery with you... but alas, you were leaving that evening! Can you tell me your side of the story? Did you think, "who is this weird girl that I don't know messaging me!?"
BARON WOLMAN: Well, before I judge anybody who is messaging me, I do a little "background investigation." In your case I came up with some gems. First of all, I thought, "Well, she's attractive so she can't be all that bad..." Then I started going deep into your Facebook postings, kind of exploring your life until I came across your music. Your music really spoke to me, it was entirely unexpected. You were slight, on the thin side, but the sounds that came from you were deep and throaty; they appealed to me in some visceral way.
As you know, many of my best friends don't live in Santa Fe. Even though I like this town, it's an "old" place, kind of like a high end retirement community; it lacks a young, creative population, and even though I am older I prefer younger energy. I had been leaving Santa Fe to find those kinds of fellow travelers but decided last year that rather than going out, I'd invite interesting people to visit me here. Sooooo, that's when I suggested you come to Santa Fe to see what this place was about, and concurrently we could see what each other was about.
Tess: See, I've always had low self-esteem, so hearing that from someone who has photographed some of the most talented and beautiful people in the world really makes me blush... I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and willing things to happening, for example, I’ve had one of your Woodstock photos up on my wall since I was about 18, and flash forward 7 years later, I’m in Santa Fe with you in your studio and looking through your amazing body of work! Life is but a dream! What are some things that you feel you have conjured up and willed to happen?
Baron: I have a couple of mantras that guide my life. One is I always say to myself, "Assume Success." That kind of has the power of positive thinking - what you think is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you'll be successful you'll probably do what's necessary to succeed. But if you're tenuous about yourself, think that, "oh well, this probably won't work out," it probably won't, because in a way you're willing your own failure.
My other "mantra" is to always say "yes" to every opportunity that comes along. If you say "no" you'll never know what you've missed. If you say "yes" all kinds of good things can happen, but you still have the "no" in your pocket in case the "yes" leads you to an uncomfortable place.
Tess: I agree with saying yes to everything. It makes a big difference.
Baron: I remember when you arrived in Santa Fe, you immediately felt the power of this place, as I did when I first arrived decades ago. Almost your first words were that you were already experiencing "separation anxiety" and you had only been here a few hours. Santa Fe can do that to a person…
Tess: It's true!! I still feel it!! We discussed a lot of different topics in Santa Fe. Personally, it was one of the most magical trips of my life. I’ll always be so grateful for you and those memories. What stands out as the most memorable moment of that time together?
Baron: Just being around you was memorable - the person I intuited from her Facebook page was even more fascinating than she was in the cyber world. But beyond that, two specific memorable moments: when I brought you to the radio station for your "15 minutes of airtime fame," and when you performed at the High Note in that little "pop up" evening of music I arranged. Oh, and of course, photographing you, allowing you to reveal yourself to me and my camera - very magical moments. In fact, your entire visit was extraordinarily memorable...!!! To me, at least.
Tess: I feel like we are past life friends.
Baron: And future life friends, as well...
Tess: Oh, without a doubt. Okay, so let's change gears a little bit. Let's stick to happy memories. What's your best memory of taking photos in the sixties?
Baron: Ah, there are so many of them. Being at Woodstock for those three days of Peace, Love and Music ranks high. Being on stage with The Jimi Hendrix Experience ranks way up there - I quickly discovered that it was impossible to take a bad photo of Jimi. Being in the studio with the Who as they were recording the rock opera Tommy was a super high. Sitting in the foyer of the Apple Corps office (of the Beatles) with George Harrison and photographing him there was incomparable. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the sixties, so just going out into the streets every day gave me endless photo ops. It 's a long, long list...
Tess: Baron, your life makes me want to cry with joy, to be honest. All of that sounds overwhelmingly beautiful.
Baron: And it was, Tess. I feel incredibly blessed. It was more than being at the right place at the right time - it's as though some force was preparing me for the experience. I knew that in appreciation for the opportunity I had to fulfill that opportunity in the best possible way, take pictures that showed the world what San Francisco was like, what the musicians were like, what the musical experience itself was like...all of this in individual still photographs because there was no MTV, there was no internet, there were no music videos. The readers of Rolling Stone were depending upon me to be the visual window to the world they loved so much.
Tess: I saw in Santa Fe that you still get copies of Rolling Stone! Did they give you a lifetime subscription? I should hope so! What do you think of Rolling Stone these days?
Baron: For a while I received a free subscription then one day I got an invoice... How thoughtless! I continue to like Rolling Stone; it's still a significant voice in the entertainment and social worlds. It continues to be well-edited and well-written; there are always several good stories in each issue. It's not the way it was when we began 50 years ago; the world is not the same 50 years down the line. Rolling Stone is putting more emphasis into their online edition - that's how more of the younger readers, the important demographic readers, get their news these days, as you know, as we all know. Listen, next year is the 50th anniversary of the magazine. That's an extraordinary milestone - and I was there from day 1, so I will never abandon it.
Tess: Going back, you mentioned Jimi Hendrix. You shot a lot of members of the “27 club”. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin… How does this make you feel on a personal level? Do you think about it?
Baron: About the "27 Club" I feel only sadness. So many candles burning out so early. To some degree, Jim Morrison and Janis were predictable victims of their own addictions and unhappiness. With Jimi it was another story. To my mind, his death was a total accident. OK, there were some drugs involved, but he wasn't depressed, he was looking forward to the future with his new band, he had just completed his new recording studio in New York, the Electric Lady Studio. He had so much to live for. He was not an addict. Amy Winehouse unfortunately walked the same path as Janis; they were both victimized by people who were not willing to help them overcome both their addictions as well as their surprisingly low self-esteems. Neither understood how much we loved them.
Tess: Janis Joplin seemed like she would have been so kind and so fun. I would have liked to have a whiskey with that woman. What is the one photograph you wish you had captured? I remember you mentioning you kind of wish you had been at Monterey Pop festival… who did you miss shooting there?
Baron: By not going to Monterey Pop I missed pretty much everybody and probably THE most important concert in the history of Rock and Roll. OK, I eventually photographed most of the musicians sooner or later, but, man, what a mistake not going down to Monterey that weekend. And I still don't even know why - maybe I just wanted to watch football on TV... I can be quite lazy you know.
Tess: Baron, you are anything but lazy. I would never use the world lazy to describe you! (laughs) You did eventually shoot basically everyone at Monterey! Is there anyone you did actually never shoot?
Baron: So many, the list is long. I only shot one Beatle! I never shot Brian Jones. I always wanted to do a better shoot with Dylan. I never shot Tom Petty. I wanted to shoot John Mellancamp. I hardly shot Led Zeppelin at all, only one time at their last concert ever in the U.S. I wish I had photographed Otis Redding. I could go on forever... I love to photograph musicians mostly because I Iove music. I can't play music so I truly, truly love those who can and I want to give them with my camera a little bit of the beauty they give me with their voices and their instruments...
Tess: Hey, there's still time! Call up Paul, Ringo, Bob etc. and invite them to Santa Fe! It'll be a crazy party! I love what you say about giving something back. I feel the same about that. I think that's why I picked up a guitar and a camera, I wanted to create something even slightly as beautiful as what I was seeing and hearing.
Baron: We're cut from the same artistic cloth, my dear.
Tess: The past life/future life cloth!
Baron: An unexpectedly deep connection.
Tess: Alright Baron, you’re a busy man. One last question. What words of wisdom would you give an aspiring artist/photographer?
Baron: If you are truly an artist of any kind - musician, photographer, painter - you owe it to yourself to be true to your art. Even if you have a day job, art also must play a role in your life. For a true artist, art infuses his/her life. If it's there, you'll know it. Don't abandon it. From making art of any kind, mystical fulfillment comes into your lives in both predictable and unexpected ways. For an artist, art is the blood that flows through your veins. For an artist, the meaning of life emerges from your art. So, if you truly are an artist, never abandon it, even when the going gets tough. The benefits and the joys of art are not available to everyone. If you are an artist, consider yourself blessed...and follow your bliss.