“I think that the management of the musicians right now is so stupid because in limiting the photographers’ access, they’re limiting the best that the photographer can give them.” -Baron Wolman

Rolling Stone’s first photographer

On Photography, Baron Wolman, 1937-2020
Baron Wolman on stage at Woodstock photo by Bill Graham

Baron Wolman met Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason who were busy creating what would become Rolling Stone magazine in the mid-1960s. Wolman was working as a freelance photographer. His client, Mills College in Oakland, California was staging a conference on the popular music business. Wolman remembers the encounter, “Jann asked me if I would like to join the team as its photographer, and, if so, did I have 10 grand to invest.”

Wolman didn’t have the money but he had his camera gear so he countered by saying he would work for the magazine for just the cost of film and processing and that he would get some stock in the publication. Wolman’s best part of the deal was he got to keep all of the rights to his work.

The first issue of Rolling Stone appeared in November of 1967 with a photo of the Grateful Dead gathered at the front of their house in San Francisco.

Jerry Garcia in 1969

Wolman photographed the Grateful Dead’s frontman, Jerry Garcia again in 1969. In one frame Garcia waved as Wolman took the picture. Later when it was printed, Wolman noticed that Garcia had a stunted finger on his left hand, something he had kept secret until then (opening photo, bottom row, far right.) Neil Genzlinger, author of Wolman’s obituary in The New York Times wrote, “That anecdote underscores one of Mr. Wolman’s particular gifts as a photographer at the heart of the rock scene during the Woodstock era: his ability to gain the trust of his subjects. That skill led to enduring images of Garcia and the rest of the Dead … and countless others.”

Learning photography by doing the work

Baron Wolman never had a photographic education. He held a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Northwestern University. He was an enthusiastic photographer who tried new things and learned from doing them. Wolman said, “I discovered what worked by trying, In those days I’d go into a camera store and say, ‘I’ve got this problem, can anybody tell me what to do?’”

Rolling Stone’s publisher, Jann Wenner said that Wolman was constantly studying European publications and what he gleaned from them made the magazine better. “He turned me on to design and on to European magazines and that sensibility,” he said, “and just kind of raised the game.”

Woodstock, 1969

Wolman was in the famous traffic jam of thousands of cars heading to Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. He was fascinated by the crowds of people who had gathered for the three-day festival. Most of his photos from Woodstock are of the concertgoers.

Rock ’n’ roll musicians

Wolman photographed cutting edge musicians like Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix (opening photo, top row, L-R.) Janis was one of Wolman’s favorite subjects. In a 2016 interview with the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Wolman described a shoot with her, “She’d come and she’d have a long face on her. I wanted to always try to get her to smile because she had this great smile, and I would say things like: ‘Janis, look, it’s getting your picture taken. It’s not like going to the dentist, for Christ’s sake. Come on.’ And of course, she’d break into a big smile.”

“Groupies and Other Electric Ladies”

On Photography, Baron Wolman, 1937-2020
Baron Wolman photo by Tony Bonanno/NY Times

In 2015 Baron Wolman published the book Groupies and Other Electric Ladies filled with photographs made for an article in Rolling Stone about the women who were drawn to rock stars.

“The thing I noticed immediately about these women was that they had spent a lot of time putting themselves together in ways that were so creative, you couldn’t believe it,” Wolman said. “They mixed together outfits of the day with things from antique clothing stores to create a real vision. They weren’t appearing half-naked to get the men’s attention. They were dressing up to put on a show.”

Wolman’s photos of the original 1969 groupies were billed on Roling Stone #27’s cover as “A Special Super-Duper Neat Issue” (opening photo, bottom row, second from the right features Karen Seltenrich. The rest of the groupies are clockwise from bottom left: The G.T.O.s, Linda Sue Parker aka Miss Sparky, Lacy, Sally Mann, Karen Seltenrich and Harlow.)

One of them, Sally Romano, now an attorney in Houston, Texas went by the name Sally Mann.* Sally Mann was married to Spencer Dryden of the Jefferson Airplane. Wolman photographed their wedding. Mann’s story is compelling and can be found in the sources under the Rolling Stone Years.

Before this issue of Rolling Stone, the word “groupie” was not well known. With the publication of this issue, the term went mainstream.

Baron Wolman died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 2, 2020. He was 83.

*No relation to the photographer Sally Mann.

Sources: New York Times obituary, The Rolling Stone Years, Groupies, from Sex Symbols to Style Icons

More stories about influential photographers are in On Photography.