So one of the things I’ve been really wanting to introduce to the blog is an area for creative content where people can learn and really be inspired from. I personally love interviews with interesting people, those Ted talks are amazing aren’t they? I love stories and how people have carved their own path in many cases, to get to where they are. I love success but I also love reading about other peoples successes. It’s inspiring and there are so many incredible stories out there. So why not try to gather and share to inspire myself and others along the way?
I haven’t met Baron Wolman in person, however he has shot some of the most amazing work during his career. He was also the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine. He shares some amazing photos on Instagram so be sure to follow him on his handle @baronwolman I’m a huge huge fan of photos of Jimi Hendrix – He’s such an interesting subject, but specifically Baron’s photos of Jimi. They make my jaw drop and all the feels!
I followed Baron over on Instagram a while back and somewhere along the lines he followed me back, and so I reached out asking for a q&a for this area and he ever so kindly agreed. So kicking off this series is Baron Wolman, For those of you who may not know him by name, you will no doubt have seen his work if you’re a Jimi Hendrix fan. Not to take anything away from his other amazing work, but the photo’s of Jimi are a personal fave so apologies in advance if I bang on about that all the way through!
Thanks so much for this Baron, I hope we can inspire someone along the way.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
A:I knew I wanted to be a photographer the first time I picked up a camera. Until then life made little sense to me, but when I looked through the viewfinder I was able to sort out the visual chaos and confusion, to quiet my mind and to begin to learn about the world around me…through the medium of photographs.
Q:Do you have a designated workspace or office where you work from?
A: Over the years I’ve had offices and studios and darkrooms away from my home, and home offices where I simply went into the other room to go to work. Currently I have a detached building here at home that is my office and digital darkroom. I don’t shoot film anymore and gave up the darkroom years ago since the chemicals aggravated my asthma.
Q:What does the creative process look like for you?
A: To me the creative process is the “ultimate high,” making something from nothing, bringing a dream to reality. I’ve also found it to be an out of body experience where the creative energy seems to flow through me as opposed to originating within me. There are so many wonderful variations on the theme of creativity…
Q: What inspires you and motivates you to create?
A: I am endlessly inspired to create and I don’t mean just taking photographs. I also like to make things happen – I “see” the pieces of an end result that interests me and simply begin to put the pieces together. I used to run a book publishing company. As soon as I would come up with a book idea (or be presented with one) I could see what needed to be done to create the book, the elements that had to be combined to create the finished product. Same with a TV show I’m working on, a documentary I’m working on. It’s as if the creative force is locked into my DNA…
Q:When you get a creative block – How do you get ‘unstuck’?
A:When I get a so-called “creative block” I simply relax and stay open to the world and people around me. I listen to conversations that may hold a kernel of an idea that intrigues me. Same with the news and social media – there is a huge creative force operating within those from which I often get ideas and find inspiring.
Baron Wolman – Rolling Stone’s first Chief Photographer – Photo by Gail DeMarco
Q:How did you end up being the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine?
A:I was in the right place at the right time when Jann Wenner (the Rolling Stone co-founder) had the idea for a new publication that would focus on the musicians themselves and the people who loved the music they played, not the business of music which defined most of the US music publications at the time. In an informal conversation Jann asked me what I thought of his idea and I agreed it was a good one. “Well,” he said, “We’re gonna need a photographer. You interested in being our photographer?” “Sure,” I answered, having no idea what was ahead, but I followed my mantra of always saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes along just to see what that opportunity is all about. (If you say “no,” you’ll never know what you missed and if the “yes” turns out to be wrong, you can always say “no” later…)
Q:What did / do you love the most about music photography specifically?
A: I love photographing talented people in any field, be they musicians, writers, actors, visionaries, whatever, so I was naturally drawn to photographing musicians when the opportunity presented itself. Furthermore, the excitement of being at a live concert was its own high – mixing the sounds with the visuals, waiting for just the right moment to snap the shutter, to hunt for a photo that told the whole story to a print audience who at the time didn’t yet have the luxury of MTV music videos and the Internet.
Q: Can you tell us more about these images?(seen below) I particularly love the frame of Jimi pointing right into the lens – It’s one of my favourite types of photos to capture from the photopic as it really captures something special.
A: I never hid from the musicians during a concert, although I always tried to stay in the shadows as much as possible. I knew the audience wasn’t there to watch me take pictures… However, it was often the case that a musician him/herself would acknowledge me and the camera, just as Jimi did in this photo. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith gave me the finger. Pete Townshend of the Who simply assumed a pose and looked directly at me.
Q:One of the things I absolutely adore about your work is how authentic and raw the photos are & so natural. How do you achieve this?
A: As much as possible I eschew artifice when I photograph – I much prefer natural light and only occasionally (although enjoyably) shoot in a studio with lights. In my own Cartier-Bresson way I look for a “decisive moment” that somehow captures the essence of the musician, the event, the scene. As much as possible, I want the viewer to feel as if he/she experienced what I saw, that together we all experienced the “heart of the matter.” Natural. Authentic. And, yes, occasionally raw…
Q:Many creatives struggle with the business and marketing aspect of being a photographer – Maybe because they put their heart and soul into the projects and then feel not worthy of seeing any financial reward from it. If this is a goal for a creative ie; creating to pay the bills and really love what you do everyday – What are your tips in doing this or making this happen?
A:Too many photographers don’t spend enough time learning about the business of photography. I was fortunate in that I learned basic business practices from my businessman father. Unless you are lucky enough to be a “trustafarian” or a “one-percenter” the business of photography is an essential element of the equation. We must be able to pay the bills and this means sometimes means shooting not from the heart but for the wallet. That being said, however, every shoot is enjoyable – we’re doing what we like, we’re working with other people…and film and light and design. I mean, how bad can that be!
OK, that said, the business of music photography these days sucks, there’s no other way to put it. Limitations put on rights, limitations put on access, low pay for skilled and hardworking shooters, the deluge of digital cameras and wannabe music photographers – all of this combines to present challenges that exist in addition to the basic challenge of making a great photo. Rare is the person who is making a decent living from music photography these days. Even the best of the best struggle against cold-hearted and disrespectful managers. For me, for the most part, the joy has been taken from the magic of making music photos. The exception is when a photographer hooks up with a new band or a new musician who needs good photographs and is allowed the access and thereby the freedom to do good work, make good pictures.
Q:Are there any key lessons in your career you would like to share?
A: There are two lessons I’ve learned in my career. The first, as I’ve already mentioned, is to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. Saying yes is an affirmation of spirit and belief in oneself and usually leads to unexpected and exciting experiences. The second is to “assume success.” No matter how difficult the challenge, no matter how rough the road, we must always assume we will meet the challenge and navigate the road. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we assume we won’t succeed we simply won’t – it’s almost that simple. If we assume we will succeed, it may take a while, it may take extra effort, but the odds that things will work out will be shaded in our favor.
Q:Share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
A: When I’m shooting a concert I “see” the music I don’t “hear” it. I watch the musicians move, how they stand, how they relate to the audience and to one another. If I see something I like, something I know I want to capture, I know that most music contains repetition and that when the music repeats so does the movement of the musician playing the music. So I wait for the return of, say, a chorus, and when I hear it coming I start shooting, anticipating the movements I’ve seen and liked. I shoot before the moment I want to capture because if I see it in the viewfinder I’ve already missed it. Back in the day we didn’t have the luxury of motor-drives, auto-focus, auto-exposure, so the challenge to capture those magic moments was even greater.
Q:Some words of inspiration for photographers who are thinking of starting out / are developing their art and craft specifically with documentary / music / portrait photography
A: These days it’s hard for me to encourage people to choose photography as a profession unless he or she is drawn to one of the niche specialties like weddings, advertising, events, wildlife and the like. Thanks to the advent of digital photography, everybody is now a photographer. The good news is, people are discovering the art of seeing and of making fine photos, the bad news is, people are discovering the art of seeing and of making fine photos. We are awash in images, good, mediocre and bad. Publications which used to pay well to reproduce photos are now choosing price over quality, saying, and probably with some justification, that “good enough” is good enough, and “good enough” is always much less expensive.
There is still great joy in doing documentary / music / and portrait photography. These are soulful and righteous subjects at which to point our cameras. But truly earning a living in these fields is increasingly difficult, so my advice to those of us who must earn a living from our passion, consider it a noble sideline until the day comes that our work is again appreciated and we are given the financial respect we have earned and deserve.
One quick tip. Although the number of published magazines is steadily decreasing, there are still many out there, especially special-interest magazines – automobiles, aviation, racing, travel, horses and western, jewellery, wine, gardening, specific music instruments, just to name a few. So if your interest matches any of these special interests, the opportunities for assignments still exist. The pay is less, the benefits are less, but these magazines continue to need pictures, so it’s definitely a market is worth looking into.
Q:Last but not least – what’s your favourite photo you have captured and why?
A: So many of my photos are my “favourites.” Do you have children – which is your favourite child? However, my “money shot,” one that I love, love, love, is the photo of Jimi Hendrix onstage that graces the covers of several of my books. It is an almost perfect photo in that I think it communicates to both musicians and music lovers alike the ecstasy of a memorable performance by a memorable artist. I was onstage with the Jimi Hendrix Experience that evening, a night I will never forget…
I would like to say a huge thank you to Baron for taking the time out of his schedule to do this Q&A. It’s certainly inspired me in many ways and I hope it’s done the same for you guys who are reading to go and do what you love in any way you can. The smallest steps make an impact, so get started!
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