Baron Wolman, music photographer

Part one of an in depth interview with photographer Baron Wolman, Rolling Stone Magazine’s first chief photographer. Interviewed September 26, 2015 in Santa Fe, NM. | gig magazine issue #16 |

It has been said that Baron Wolman was in the right place at the right time and that he had the ability to capitalize on that opportunity. I agree but I would also add that he was curious enough to keep looking for the right questions to ask. You might not know Baron by name, but if you are a fan of music from the 60’s and 70’s chances are you have seen his work.

“Have you seen what I have been doing on Instagram?” Baron asked as if knowing I was leading my questions down that rabbit hole. I was trying to play it slow by first asking him about subject and quality of music photography. The deeper question I was headed toward was how he is engaging his audience via Instagram and Facebook.

Baron exhibits his work in galleries all over the world and has several books dedicated to his time at Rolling Stone. Both of these outlets are very traditional for an archive that is full of Rock ’n’ Roll legends. At the same time he is sharing those images through his Instagram and Facebook accounts and… “this is another thing that is really interesting man. Let’s say I have an exhibit. People come to the exhibit and they will stand in front of a picture of Janis Joplin in a concert and say ‘hey that is where I met my wife, at a Janis Joplin concert.’ Well on Facebook the same thing is happening, they are relating to their own experience with a particular musician. I am having a good time and I am giving them something more than a bunch of pictures to look at.”

“People really want a little bit of the back story when they see a picture.” — Baron Wolman

What grabs the viewers attention?

Success in music photography is a result of blending two things of quality; technique and subject. I was curious how it was for Baron and when I asked him I used Jimi Hendrix as an example because of his unique persona. “From my point of view it is important who was in it, but equally important for me as the photographer was the image itself. It had to be a good picture. I wouldn’t even supply anybody with a picture that I didn’t think was fabulous. Graphically, composed well, and in focus for the most part. As much as I had any control over that. So it was a little bit of both, I don’t think it is either or. The people who look at pictures are a fan of a particular artist and they want to see Jimi or they don’t.”

“The first photograph I posted was of Jimi and the number of likes was relatively small because I had very few followers at that point. But now that I have 6,000 followers [at the time of writing he is at 7,250] I can watch people respond to the subject and I can almost predict who they are going to like. But I feel like I have to educate them and show them people that they have not seen before or that they have only heard of or not heard about.”

The current state of music photography.

When I sat down with Baron he started the conversation talking about digital photography. Specifically the good and bad that came with it. “The most important event that happened in the world of rock ’n’ roll photography is the advent of digital photography. It was a game changer. It ruined it for most people but it gave access to a lot of people who otherwise would not have.”

He explained further that it ruined it for people trying to earn a living making photographs. Not only did it increase the competition but the people buying and using those images have changed as well. “There are so many images out there that the people who are paying for the pictures are not buying quality they are buying price. They are finding that “good enough is good enough” because those images are just stay there for a moment. Look at, the front page picture might be very powerful. Look back in a half an hour and it’s gone.”

“The respect to the individual image is gone.” — Baron Wolman

Can photographers still find a little of that magic?

The music industry is different, there are more photographers at shows and fighting for access. Are we doomed? Not really, we have to change with the times. Find a new approach. Above all else we can’t devalue our work. “The access back then was the fundamental component in being able to create the unique photos that caused people to stop and look for a moment. Photographers nowadays want the access so bad that they go to the publications and say ‘just get me a photo pass and I’ll shoot for free’. That’s not business and everybody else loses.”

I started gig magazine on the idea of educating people about Albuquerque’s music scene. I did this through sharing photographs and musician’s stories. It was possible because getting access to your neighbor is much easier than to someone across a content. Baron was living in San Francisco in the late 60’s and the people he photographed in those early days of Rolling Stone were his neighbors.

“… as a photographer you are seeing the music you are not hearing the music. So you have to see pictures that are evocative, provocative, informative.” — Baron Wolman

I will be sharing more from my interview with Baron Wolman soon.

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