Chief photographer of Rolling Stone from 1967-70 to show work at Sordoni Gallery in Wilkes-Barre
WILKES-BARRE — When Jann Wenner was starting Rolling Stone magazine in 1967, his friend, Baron Wolman, was living in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, his neighbors the likes of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. Wolman was a 30-year-old freelance photographer who signed on to shoot for the rock and roll publication for free. Nearly 50 years later, Wolman’s photographs are thought to have both captured and influenced a revolutionary cultural movement in America and some of the art is making its way to the city.
Wolman’s exhibit, “Backstage Pass: Baron Wolman and the Early Years of Rolling Stone” will show from Jan. 28 to March 16 at Wilkes University’s Sordoni Art Gallery. The display is intended to give viewers insight into the creation of the “rock star” persona, with early photographs of music icons such as Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia as well as shots of outdoor gatherings such as Woodstock and Day on the Green.
Stanley Grand was the director of the Sordoni Gallery through most of the ’90s, and has returned to his position in an interim capacity. Grand said Wolman’s exhibit of photojournalism is as culturally significant as it is fun.
“Baron Wolman was the first staff photographer for Rolling Stone, and these photos were taken between 1967 and 1970,” Grand said. “That period was just a crucial time of transition in the United States.”
That period of transition came when youth and musical movements were in sync with social and political change, Grand said.
“The whole … counterculture of the late ’60s had many components, and they were all interrelated,” Grand said. “That would include the political aspects, the anti-Vietnam protests, the Civil Rights movement, the beginning of feminism and the beginning of the Back-to-the-Land ecological movement. It was also the start of the transition from Haight-Ashbury counterculture for some of these stars, like Jerry Garcia or Frank Zappa, to becoming national icons. It was all interrelated. It wasn’t as if the music was disengaged from what was happening in the entire youth or counter culture.”
Beyond capturing some of the greats of rock and roll, the photographs possess a candid quality that is rare if alive at all today, Grand said.
“There was this great intimacy that photographers could have with the bands,” Grand said. “As the bands became more and more famous and more and more rich, there started to be more distance too, and the photographers didn’t have that access.”
The great social transition of the time was highlighted by some turbulent events, which bread awareness, Grand said.
“It really captures a moment when there was a lot of change,” Grand said. “This was a couple of years prior to the Kent State shootings, and that was a great shock to white, middle-class, university-privileged individuals, for such a thing to happen to them. Obviously it had been happening to African Americans for a very long time.”
Photographs from the time period show rocks stars, now well seasoned, as fresh-faced, former versions of themselves, Grand said.
“That also underscores that it’s a youth culture, and it was a rebellious culture, and it was, on so many different levels, artistically, musically, politically, sexually,” Grand said. “These are key years, and Rolling Stone became one of the voices for this generation. It wasn’t the only one, but it was a major one. So I think it really is a great context.”
The Backstage Pass exhibit is free and open to the public. The Sordoni Art Gallery is located at 150 South River St., Wilkes-Barre, and gallery hours are noon to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter@TLArts.
IF YOU GO
What: Backstage Pass: Baron Wolman and the Early Years of Rolling Stone
Where: The Sordoni Art Gallery is located at 150 South River St., Wilkes-Barre
When: noon to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Opening night is Thursday, Jan. 28