BARON LANDS – a private audience with Baron Wolman..

When we were summoned at the start of the summer to help co-ordinate and promote the first coming of iconic rock n roll photographer Baron Wolman to Ibiza, it’s fair to say we had mixed emotions. The concept of  ‘An Audience with …in this case, the aforementioned Mr Wolman– Rolling Stone Magazine’s very first photographer/editor-in-chief –was one that FIX had already tried to incorporate in the programme of our annual rockin’ rollin’ extravaganza ‘Rock n Mola’ which took place from 18-20 May this year. Changes to the 75 year old legend’s European schedule soon put paid to that notion, however.

But, as fate would have it, on 12th June 2012, and straight off the back of his success at Madrid Photo 4, Ibiza Rocks House at Pikes Hotel became the perfect setting for Baron Wolman’s premier Pitiusa presentation..

The following interview was first published in BLUE MARLIN MAGAZINE AUGUST 2012 as the primary feature in that month’s edition and whilst the powers-that-be deemed that the title of the feature be renamed for the magazine, I’m sticking with my original title.

BARON LANDS…

********************

Anyone who has even the least amount of interest in photography and/or music should already know the name and fame of Baron Wolman, and anyone who has even the least amount of sense turned up to see him in person at the recent event ‘An Audience with Baron Wolman’, held at Ibiza Rocks House at Pikes Hotel in Ibiza.

For those readers for which no bell is ringing on either count, Wolman is one of the most respected guys in his business. An American photographer best known for his work in the late 1960s for the music magazine/revered beat bible, Rolling Stone, he became the magazine’s first editor of photography from 1967 to 1970, effectively, no sooner than the magazine was conceived.

When we think of Wolman, we think of Woodstock, of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, of George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner- and the list goes on- because this is the guy who was there with them on that rock n roll rollercoaster of the 60s, up close and personal, him and his camera, with the best of the best, the creators of real, live music, back when electronica wasn’t even a concept, never mind a real word in a dictionary. This was the age of Aquarius, the summer of love, the start of the live music revolution.

Behind the scenes, in the dressing room, on the stage, back in the day, Baron Wolman and his trusty Nikon. A totally different scenario from modern times, when it’s a lengthy chore to even secure a press pass for a live gig, never mind the impossible ask of trying to take a photo of a band from the main stage.  Timeless classics, his pictures, and to this day, Baron’s photos exude the exuberance of real rock n roll, the talent, passion and of course, peace and love, man…

Born in 1937, Baron Wolman has spent his long life engaged in a variety of jobs and projects but, as he says himself, photography has always been his main focus (literally).  The best part of his existence has been spent looking through a lens and he has captured images of not only some of the world’s greatest musicians, but also, a plethora of social and cultural events of modern day history- starting with his photo-journalistic report on the happenings behind the Berlin Wall, his first attempt at capturing real life on camera.

Here is a guy who, having served his military time in Germany, came back to the USA and decided to get on with his ‘hobby’- having taken pictures on the frontline of some of the world’s grimmest war sights, it was time for the other side of the coin, capturing some of the world’s most memorable musical moments on 35 mm film for ever.

Wolman’s recent visit to the Ibiza in association with the Duncan Miller Gallery (Los Angeles), Ibiza Rocks and FIX Ibiza on island, was his first , and by his own admission, had been a long time coming, As far as he’s concerned, however, we haven’t seen the last of him yet. We sat down with the Baron Wolman post-event for a private audience of one.

Baron! You’re actually here, in Ibiza…

-I got here, finally! Before we came here, my gallerist, Daniel Miller, said to me,  “Ibiza’s going to change your life, Baron” and he was right. And now, the night before I’m leaving, I’m thinking, why do I even want to go? I should stay…

What impression of the place will you take away with you?

It’s been pretty interesting…You see, for me, what’s fascinating is the connection of the present to the past, how this whole spirit of the island has developed. In the 60s and 70s, I’d heard about Ibiza a lot but I didn’t understand it… had I come and been able to participate in the origins of this amazing place, maybe my life would have been very different…

So, who was talking to you about Ibiza back then?

All my friends would tell me to go there; they would all go but I was very responsible and so I stayed home and worked and worked, shooting for at the Rolling Stone magazine at that time…you know, nobody gave me that final clue, that last piece in the puzzle of why I should actually come to Ibiza. Had I been here, even more recently in the days of Manumission, a party that was so far ahead of itself and of its time, a pre-cursor to Cirque de Soleil in a way, I can’t imagine what fun I’d have had.

Maybe you weren’t supposed to come before…

That’s true, maybe I wasn’t. I’ll tell you something else- last month and for the first time, I went to Jamaica! And so, that was the time I was apparently supposed to go to Jamaica. I should have gone there when Bob Marley was still alive but it just didn’t happen ‘til now and then, shortly after, here I am in Ibiza, also on my virgin visit.

Two great musical islands in one month!

There’s something bigger than just the music going on here, though. Ibiza really is magic. I look around here at Ibiza Rocks House, especially at night, with the lights, the pool, and I can almost see the shadows of the people from the past floating down the stairs. Listening to Tony Pike talking about all the people who stayed here throughout his reign, it’s a chapter in rock n roll history…

Will your time spent in Ibiza become another of your rock n roll anecdotes?

Definitely, and I’ll include Flower Power at Pacha in that story; that was another great experience, a real fun night out with the team behind my ‘Audience with..’ It was another link I had with the past here on the island, apart from my presentation at IRH@Pikes.  I got a real sense of what it must have been like back in the day right there in Pacha.

Even your gallerist remarked on the fact that he’s NEVER seen you dance before, yet at Flower Power, you were a jiving machine!

I should have stayed longer, I think, in order to go to several of the clubs…but I’ve had a tiny glimpse of Ibiza at least. Yeah, we danced in, we danced back out…

What do we have to do to get you back here again?

I’m coming back, don’t worry about that. I have to come back here. Once you see it with your own eyes, its like, really, where have I been?!

Is there a story that you can tell me that perhaps you’ve never told anyone else?

Oh, you want me to tell whether or not I slept with Janis Joplin…

Well, did you?

What do you think? In the book you will read that everybody asks me that same question but I always give the same answer…the one I just gave you.

So, you did then…

What do you think?

Talk to me more about your good old days…

I feel so privileged to have been a part of that time. I cannot express my gratitude enough and the point is, I don’t know who to thank. This was a gift to me, an opportunity to be around and meet all these great musicians, and therefore get close to them even before they became famous, to be able to work with them in the way that I have, I consider myself very lucky.

And photography in itself, is that a gift or do you learn that?

I didn’t learn it, it was a hobby that turned good. Before I picked up that camera, the word was very noisy, full of static; it was chaotic.  When I first picked up the camera and looked through its viewfinder, I began to finally make sense of the world, you know. I began to understand what was going on around me. Until I did that, it really was just that noisy static and so, I began to form the pictures with my own vision as I saw it. And then, everything just made sense.

What’s the secret of a Wolman photo?

For me, it’s about harmony and in the pictures, I really try to capture that visual harmony, and that’s a metaphor for the harmony that I wish we would experience all the time in life, and more than that, a harmony that I know we are capable of achieving.

Would you say that photography has been the biggest love of your life?

Yes, that’s what photography has always been to me. When I walk away from it, it’s always there when I come back, my friend. Some say I’ve been married to my camera for 60 years.

So you really are a natural then?

Remember Mozart, who started to play music as soon as he sat at a piano? Well, when I picked up the camera, it was so natural and I knew right there that that was what I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to be. That may sound like bullshit to you, but it really was the truth.

Life Vs Photography. Discuss…

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life but the photography has always been the one thing that always speaks from my soul. Photography becomes a part of your life. You can be a good photographer if that’s what you do, absorb yourself in it fully.

So life and photography are indeed one and the same for you then?

You wouldn’t believe half the things I’ve photographed.  I’ve had an amazing life and it’s been a lot of fun but more than that, photography has allowed me to understand what life is about. This is the point, if you have curiosity about the world, which I, and we all do, photography is a way to fulfil that curiosity. I worry sometimes that I feel like I already know it all already, which is just not true.  But I’ve seen the killing, the birthing, the destruction of the environment, the preservation of the environment, the music, the peace, the love…and there’ll always something else to do and see- and photograph…

My own personal favourite portrait of yours is your moody shot of Johnny Cash; tell us about the night you took that picture…

I was backstage with Johnny, it was a very strange venue, mainly because it had a rotating stage.  I would take a picture of Johnny and then, off he would go spinning round on the rotating stage and I’d get a picture of his back and then he’d come back round again and it was my chance to get another picture of him. He did a lot of funny things that night on that stage.

They say the camera never lies; Johnny’s expression in that shot seems to say it all..

What was interesting is, if you look at that particular picture, which was taken before the performance, and if you look into his eyes, he doesn’t look as if he wanted to do the performance at all. It’s a very deep, sad portrait. You can really see all the pain that he was experiencing as a human being back then. And then, he went on stage and that moment of deep sadness was transformed into the pure joy of his performance; it was a big surprise for me to see that shift first hand. Johnny Cash really enjoyed doing what he did.

So then, ironically, performing was his escape from his reality, his own fame?

Well, see, I think that’s what performing does for a person, takes you away from your troubles. I think that the other thing that’s really interesting about the whole thing is the concept of being famous. I know people who were big stars but who are no longer stars, and they are so addicted to being famous that they get sad if they can’t be in the limelight and they have to find some way of getting back in it.

What do you see as the difference between the original rock stars of the past and the modern equivalent of today?
Well, these days, I don’t even understand these guys. It’s easier to be a photographer these days, because anyone can get their hands on a camera. It’s also easier to be a musician these days, much easier than it ever was.  I’ve had a look at the line-ups for some of the parties here in Ibiza and, honestly, I don’t recognise any of the names on there. Like, who are these guys?!

Perhaps Tony Pikes, island legend and original owner of Pikes Hotel, is more on your wavelength?

He’s quite a guy. He’s been here forever and he’s got stories, lots of them, most of them shockers! He told me Esther Williams was here way back when; he showed me a photo to prove it.  I loved her as a kid, one of the best MGM actresses of her time, all singing, all dancing. He also told me that Joan Baez serenaded him with four love songs.

A bit like the ‘Concert for One’ that Janis Joplin did for you?

Something like that..

And then what happened?

What do you think…

Anything else I should know?

I don’t think you’d want to know all that I have to tell you. But, as a last thought, I have to thank my gallerist and friend, Daniel, for bringing me to Ibiza; had it not been for him, maybe I’d never have come. He made the whole thing possible, I’m so happy he did.

Yours truly- as photographed by Baron Wolman..

September 17, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized.

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