Baron of rock

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Baron Wolman bolted from Bexley immediately after high school to see the world. He ended up photographing it, too, chronicling scenes as diverse as East Berlin during the Cold War and the Oakland Raiders under John Madden.

Wolman is perhaps best-known as the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone. Selections from his vast library of rock photography will be on display this weekend at Polaris Fashion Place as part of a traveling exhibit dubbed Rock Art Show.

By phone last week, 71-year-old Wolman explained that he got into rock photography accidentally when the counterculture and its music took over San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where he and his wife lived.

"This was the first time guys started wearing their hair long. The clothes changed. You could see immediately that there was something happening," Wolman said. "You'd just walk out on the street and there'd be a million different photos every day."

As bands such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead began to play free shows in the park, Wolman developed a fondness for rock photography. That led to an assignment shooting a rock conference at Mills College in Oakland alongside a young reporter named Jann Wenner in April 1967.

Wenner recruited Wolman into a new magazine that would cover music and culture from a youthful perspective. When Rolling Stone launched that fall, it was full of Wolman's photos. He would shoot bands every night in San Francisco, follow groups on tour and document pivotal events such as Woodstock and Altamont.

"It was hard work, but it was a very cool gig, as you could imagine," Wolman said. "I mean, come on! Backstage with these guys? Total access in those days, which you don't have anymore, which is why I really feel sorry for anybody who wants to get in the rock 'n' roll photography business right now."

Among Wolman's photos on display this weekend will be an iconic shot of Jimi Hendrix from San Francisco's Fillmore West in February 1968. He remembers the night well:

"I was so in tune with Hendrix," Wolman said. "I almost felt like I was part of the band. I felt like they were playing their Fenders and their Gibsons and I was playing my Nikon."

"Rock Art Show"