Janis lived a few doors down, the Dead were just around the corner, and the kid living upstairs from photographer Baron Wolman took too much acid and walked in delirium out of the third-floor window, splatting fatally onto the hard, filthy pavement of Haight Street below. The year was ’67, and everyone was grooving.
Fueled by the music and the times, a 21-year-old journalist named Jann Wenner gathered some friends and began a revolution in ink. Named Rolling Stone, this newsprint rag captured the era, defined it in print and pictures, and helped form a generation. Among the friends that Wenner interested in his project was Wolman, then a 30-year-old freelance photojournalist. Already an established photographer for such glossy mags as Life and Look, Wolman accompanied Wenner in ’67 to cover the story when Mills College–a bastion of academic musical study–canonized rock music by hosting a conference on its importance.
Wenner invited Wolman to shoot for the burgeoning Rolling Stone, Wolman agreed to work for free, and when the first issue hit the streets five months later, rock history began to be recorded.
During his fast-paced tenure, Wolman’s lens captured the royalty of the ’60s pop and rock explosion: Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Phil Spector, Jim Morrison, Ike & Tina Turner, Tim Leary, and a motley cast of hangers-on.
When he left the magazine three years later, rock itself had changed.
And according to Wolman and former Rolling Stone managing editor John Burks, now a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, nothing will ever be the same again. “Once in a while, I’ll look back at my old copies of Rolling Stone, if a student has a question or something,” says Burks, “and I’m really struck by the collected works of Baron and [fellow photographer] Jim Marshall. Rolling Stone created the language, visual and written, of that era and it seemed accidental. You can’t do that anymore.”
Why is this no longer possible? Wolman and Burks both agree on one word: access.
“The only way for Baron to do the work he did, so close to the performers, so lyrical and intimate, was through access,” confirms Burks, noting that today’s rock stars are so packaged, so protected, and so image-conscious that the kind of off-hand directness featured in those early issues of Rolling Stone shots no longer exists.
“There was the excitement to the concerts that I tried very hard to get,” says Wolman. “It’s very hard with a still photograph to capture the action of a concert,” he says. “You try to see something in the face, the body language, the lighting. Of course, it was much tougher in those days; there were no automatic cameras, so it was a real technical challenge to get a decent photograph. “But the really great thing was that I could get onstage with people, no problem. For [photographing] Tina Turner at the Hungry i, I was probably 12 feet away–I could smell her.”