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Famed rock photographer offers fresh look at Woodstock in winery show

One of rock’s greatest photographers, Baron Wolman, will appear Saturday, April 19 at Markham Vineyards to celebrate the 45th anniversary of one of rock’s greatest concerts, Woodstock. But, says Wolman, the photographs on display at the St. Helena winery will show a side of the music festival that most people have never seen.

Baron Wolman, backstage at Woodstock, in a photo taken by the late San Francisco rock promoter Bill Graham. That's Carlos Santana on stage.
Photo courtesy of Baron Wolman, used with permission.

“This show doesn’t have the Woodstock photographs you’d expect,” he said. “There were 300,000 people at Woodstock, and these pictures document what it was like to walk among all those people and be with them.”

Entitled “On Assignment: Woodstock,” the exhibit consists of some 50 black and white images in which Wolman turned his camera away from the stars on the stage to capture the festival-goers. They show scenes of the teenaged hippies who got naked, rolled around in the mud, danced and smoked pot—an activity that the 75-year-old Santa Fe resident, still true to his counterculture roots, confesses to partaking in. That is, he adds, “if it’s legal at the time and place, of course.”

Best known for his work for Rolling Stone, Wolman does not shoot professionally as much anymore. “I enjoy taking pictures for myself, for pleasure,” he says, and these include the travel shots he takes when he goes on the road to promote his various books and exhibits. (A new Wolman Woodstock picture book, published by Reel Art Press, will be released in June.)

Asked what camera he’d recommend for amateur shooters, he said there are several “high end point-and-shoots” for about $500 that take excellent pictures. He also marveled at the iPhone’s abilities to shoot digital stills and video. But, he stressed, equipment alone does not a good photographer make. “The point is, the camera is just a tool,” he said. “It’s still the eye.”

The current show represents a return engagement for Wolman at Markham, which hosted the U.S. premiere last year of his photo exhibit on groupies in addition to its continuing display in its galleries of his famous portraits of Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, The Who, Jerry Garcia and other rock icons from the 1960s. Arriving in Napa Valley this Thursday, Wolman, if he has time, may try to get out and shoot scenes both big and small. “I like to do close-ups of old vines, but there are also places in Yountville and Calistoga and all over where you can go down these roads and get up high and look down across the valley and get these amazing shots.

“There are so many photo-ops,” he added, saying how you can “take these unbelievably beautiful pictures of this great food you’re having. The graphic power of these images is amazing.”

Some 45 years later, the graphic power of Wolman’s pictures remains potent as well. He will attend Saturday’s reception from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Admission is free. One of the tastings offered by Markham Vineyards, at 2812 St. Helena Highway, is a “rock ‘n’ roll tasting,” featuring a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and four other wines for $15.

“On Assignment: Woodstock” is part of Napa’s month-long celebration of the arts, Napa Valley Arts in April. It will be shown at the winery through August 2014.

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