Baron Wolman created icons.
As the first staff photographer for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1960s, he captured some of the most enduring faces of the era in their prime: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Grateful Dead and Steve Miller, among others.
On Oct. 4, Wolman posted a grim message on social media saying that in 2019 he was diagnosed with ALS - the terminal motor-neuron illness better known as Lou Gehrig's disease - and was nearing the end of his life.
"Sad to say I'm now in the final sprint to the end," he wrote. "I go forward with a huge amount of gratitude for the many blessings bestowed upon me ... with no regrets, and appreciation for how my photographs - my life's work - have been received."
He died at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., on Monday, Nov. 2, Dianne Duenzl, his representative, said in a statement. He was 83.
"Baron's pictures gave us a rare, comprehensive, and accurate reflection of that time executed by a gifted artist whose visual intelligence is unsurpassed," she said.
Wolman served as chief photographer for the San Francisco rock music magazine from the first issue in 1967 until 1970. His inaugural assignment was to get a portrait of the Grateful Dead on the steps of their house in Haight-Ashbury after the band was caught up in a drug bust.
When he set up his camera on the street and called them out, one of the musicians called down, "Who are you?"
"I'm Baron Wolman from Rolling Stone," he answered.
"What's Rolling Stone?"
The band - and the rest of the world - would soon find out.
During his tenure there, Wolman shared unforgettable images of Hendrix performing at the Fillmore, Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home, Jerry Garcia holding up his hand with his middle finger missing, Tina Turner singing at the hungry i, and the original Woodstock festival in 1969.
"I photographed the Who smashing guitars at the Cow Palace," Wolman told The Chronicle in 2018. "Janis Joplin gave me a solo concert for an hour, so I could photograph her singing like she was onstage."
Wolman was a straightforward photographer who preferred to shoot naturalistic portraits, often suffused with his subtle humor, using available light.
"Baron was a superb photographer and an even better human being," said Ben Fong-Torres, author and former Rolling Stone editor. "He and Jim Marshall were the real pioneers of rock music photography, capturing true, and often fun, portraits of the artists."
Fong-Torres recalled how Wolman, then 30, got the job after meeting Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, who was 21 at the time, at a music conference at Mills College in Oakland.
"Jann was still putting his magazine idea together," he said. "Baron told him he was a photographer, and Jann hired him on the spot."
"The chance to be a part of the first days of Rolling Stone came out of the blue," Wolman said in a statement before the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's new exhibit, "Iconic: Baron Wolman Images of an Era." "It released the latent creative forces as a photographer I didn't know I had, and working with the magazine came to define my career.
"I loved the music and the musicians and always tried to honor them and respectfully show them in the best possible light. The majority of my photographic output is music-related, although my curiosity about life led me to many other subjects."
Through Fong-Torres, Wenner said, "We had the chance to reconnect over the last three years, and we got to say our goodbyes to each other. (He was an) honest to god a founding father of Rolling Stone, and an old friend."
Wolman left the magazine just as it became an international brand, but the images he took during that era made his name. He retained the rights to his work as part of a deal he cut with Wenner in exchange for working for free in the early days of the magazine.
His photographs were widely shown at exhibits around the world and coveted by collectors.
"When I first started paying attention to photographs in magazines as a teenager in the mid-1970s, the names Jim Marshall, Herb Greene and Baron Wolman were the ones that stood out," said photographer Jay Blakesberg. "The work of these photographers that documented the early days of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s are truly the visual markers of so much important pop culture history. Baron's photographs continue to inspire me as a photographer, which is all that any of us can hope for."
Baron Wolman was born on June 25, 1937, in Columbus, Ohio. He attended Northwestern University in Evanston, studying philosophy. He then went to Monterey, where he learned German at the Defense Language School, followed by a tour with Army military intelligence in West Berlin.
His career as a photographer started in earnest while he was in Berlin, where he sold a photo essay about life behind the newly erected Berlin Wall.
After moving back to California but before landing the job at Rolling Stone, Wolman worked as a photojournalist for magazines such as Life and Look.
Following his time at Rolling Stone, Wolman started an ahead-of-its-time street fashion magazine called Rags in 1970, in the original Rolling Stone offices above Garrett Press on Brannan Street. He published 13 issues before the magazine folded.
In 1974, Wolman spent a year photographing the Oakland Raiders football team for the book "Oakland Raiders: The Good Guys," which was published in 1975.
He later moved to Sonoma and, having learned to fly a Cessna, delved into aerial photography. His photos of California's coastline were published in the 1981 book "The Golden Coast." His work was also published in a second book, "The Holy Land: Israel From the Air," and annually in a series of scenic calendars.
In 2002, Wolman moved to Santa Fe. He published a career retrospective, "Every Picture Tells a Story: The Rolling Stone Years," in 2011, followed by a collection of scene-specific coffee-table books, "Woodstock," "Groupies," "My Generation" and "Jimi Hendrix."
"After this," he told The Chronicle at the time, "somebody else is going to have to pick up the torch of the '60s and run with it, 'cause I'm done."
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Added to Library on November 4, 2020. (3160)
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