Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Since my last post, I've been in five different countries and unexpectedly landed back in LA. As strange as it all has been, I'm proud of myself for coasting through it and being minimally dramatic. I know that flying by the seat of my pants will sometimes end unpredictably. Nothing I can't combat and turn into a good story. So its looking like a bit of LA sun, a taste of normalcy, then inevitably back at it. As ever.

London, Paris, all over Austria, Munich, now LA. As I took a train from Vienna to the south of Austria, a Viennese man joined my carriage. We conversed, though we never exchanged names. He assumed I was French and upon discovering I was American, asked what I was doing here, there, everywhere. As I slowly revealed my tales, he said, "You're doing things everyone would like to do but require balls to do." (I was a little taken back/impressed at his effortless use of the word 'balls'.) I thought of his off the cuff statement during the fleeting bumps that followed.

Not yet have I been faced with a hurdle so great that it scares me straight. Rather, each one seems to prepare me for the next. Everything happens so fast, the only thing one simply can do is keep it together. No time for nonsense. I could laugh or cry. And I was hardly about to go for the latter. I can't be discouraged, because where would that leave me? What purpose would that serve? The end of an adventure provokes the inevitable questions. Where next? What draws me there? How can I efficiently use my time wherever I am?

As I perused photos the other day, including the ones above, I became quietly elated. Over the thought of my own adventures. The way they looked visually. How much I've managed to do in such a short time. I may fancy myself an old pro, but its still just the beginning and I know it. A damn good start.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Irish Tour '74, Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher was never a rock star. He was above all a musician.  Touted as the ‘greatest guitarist in the world’ by Jimi Hendrix, Gallagher was renowned as a diligent master of his craft. His commitment to his work resulted in Irish Tour ’74, one of his most revered releases.

As “The Troubles”, a time of enthoreligious and political outbursts erupted over Northern Ireland, most acts obliged under warnings to keep away from the tumultuous region. Gallagher, however, included it on the itinerary of every tour of Ireland. “I lived there for a while and I learned a lot playing the clubs there, so I have a certain home feeling for the place,” says Gallagher in the recently reissued Irish Tour ’74 DVD. His shows at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Dublin’s Carlton Cinema and Cork’s City Hall shaped the aptly titled album and film.

As a man who considered studio recording as little more than a necessary chore, Gallagher hit his stride onstage. With the success of 1972’s Live in Europe behind him, Irish Tour ’74 sealed his live reputation. Such onstage prowess is demonstrated as he stomps through Going Through My Home Town and a string on his mandolin breaks. Gallagher hardly notices and carries on. Still, its Walk On Hot Coals that prevails as the album’s crowning achievement, as it ascends into an outstanding juxtaposition of ardent tremolo and thrilling staccato. It’s in this form, enthusiastic and in his element, that Rory Gallagher should be remembered.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I'm back in London.

My time in LA was genuinely enjoyable. Being in LA is always a state of reevaluation, in the best way possible. It shows me how far I've come and how much farther I'd like to go. So while I attained a six-day-a-week job, at which I loved my co-workers and catered to LA's clientele of film stars and the city's movers and shakers (or the most exciting personally: Bobby Womack!), I still decided to catch a plane. LA, for once, gave me that wistful feeling - driving beneath palm trees, 80 degrees in the winter, knowing you're somewhere you won't be again for a while. I wanted to take everything and everyone with me. That was surely a first.

My flight over had me buzzing nervously, albeit excitedly. London from a new angle. I'm on my own, no piggyback. My latest adventure is only just beginning and things feel bizarrely, but I suppose unsurprisingly, new. In a way, I'm starting all over again. Old friends, new friends, same city, new surroundings. But as I settle in, I'm damn well sure that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can do it all, and it all can work. I'm exhausted but in the best way, how George Bernard Shaw meant:

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

I enjoy the life I've created for myself, and can't help but feel that every move I make is necessary. I'm proud of all that I've done so far and look forward to the excellent times that lie ahead.  There's a change in my character and it feels good. I seem to go quiet in LA, emerge with a level head and a bit of a filter, then proceed head first into what lies ahead. Some of it I know well, some is brand new, but I know for certain that returning to London was a good choice. Tomorrow is payday on two continents, the sun is shining, I'm busy, having fun, and earning it. I can't even predict what may follow, but I wouldn't bet on it being uneventful...

Also: For those in LA or surrounding areas, I urge you to go to the Grammy Museum. I dragged a friend there (a music lover as well, he was willing) out of curiosity, and was pleasantly surprised! Some of it hardly provokes your full attention, but its incredibly interactive (a guitar with which you can explore various effects and pedals, a mixing room in which you personally mix tracks, touch screens of the history of many sub-genres) and thoroughly accurate. Additionally, the exhibitions on George Harrison and James Brown are both career-spanning and wondrously compiled. The James Brown exhibition includes this video above a dance floor, which changes color in accordance to your footwork. I couldn't walk past it without going back for another stomp! The George Harrison exhibition, to coincide with the Martin Scorsese film and coffee table book, takes up an entire floor - with a George Harrison waterfall, large scale photos, and lots of memorabilia. His outfits, passports, childhood notebooks, and other various bits are littered throughout. It was me at thirteen's idea of heaven. The James Brown exhibition seems to have concluded, but the George Harrison exhibition is running until March 25. When I went, I was also evacuated for twenty minutes for what turned out to be a small fire, but for a second, I was pretty sure it was because I snapped photos of James Brown's wallet from the 70s just moments prior! The museum itself is inside the new LA Live centre near the Staples Center. The entire centre provides a fun day out - a good idea for a date. There's also an ice cream shop, which I surely indulged in, only adding to the day's pleasures!

The photo of the JB dance floor is taken from the Grammy Museum website, but not even their photo matches its brilliance.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Baron Wolman sent me this photo of us, taken after I interviewed him in November. We both happened to be in London at the same time. Lucky me!

I'm back in Los Angeles. I spent the last three months zigzagging from Paris to London, a fitting cap on an astonishing year. I had high standards for this year, but not even my loftiest dreams could compare to the year I actually had. To make London my temporary home and to build a life for myself there. This is something I had long wanted to achieve, and the fact that I went and did exactly what I aspired to is just the first of many things this year that make me so genuinely excited. Throughout the year's tribulations (because there were those too!), all I had to do was think, 'You're actually living your dream.' And then I would promptly be content and appreciative of the life I'm living. Because everything was better than I dreamt it, and that's partially because it was real and in the flesh. I went from zero to one hundred, and I quickly went about learning from the best. In the last year, I've been consistently surrounded by brilliant individuals, witnessing people hard at work, and drinking up engaging conversation. In the beginning of the year, I knew none of these people, had never been Paris, and had only fleetingly visited London. Now we're on first name basis and both Paris and London feel a bit like home. Its so far removed from everything I had known, yet by year's end, its all become integral to my life. I've gotten used to what previously left me starry-eyed.

In other words: I've been serenaded by Cliff Richard, hit on by Sandie Shaw, and wined and dined by the best. There was that Ringo incident, visits to some of the world's greatest art museums, memorable gigs, and even more memorable interviews.

Upon returning home to LA after all of that, I was not content to relax into what no longer felt like my norm. I quickly made the decision to move to Paris, a city I had never visited and hardly dreamed of. Paris had no relation to the goals I had for myself, nor had I ever imagined living there. Still, it was a rather sumptuous idea, and off to Paris I went. I was instantly moved by the city and stunned by its inspiring qualities. It was uncharacteristically warm for the time I arrived, and I quickly met a variety of interesting people. I explored every corner of Paris - basking in every inch of its museums and gardens (and bars and cafes) - at first wondering how it could ever feel like home. But by the end of it, it most certainly did. My life in Paris was an interesting dichotomy of utterly delicious memories and some significantly less so. But despite the latter, I don't regret going to Paris for a minute. It was exactly what I needed - thrusting me into a new environment, entirely foreign, as I made yet another new life for myself. This time I had no help, which made it all the more liberating.

I left Paris two weeks earlier than I had planned, beginning a series of unexpected events and constantly being on my toes. My last week in Paris showed me what great friends I had made while there. A week of madness - exciting and exhausting. After a quick jaunt through Amsterdam, I then inevitably returned to London, where more mayhem awaited me. Another curveball, more proof that I have the greatest friends (In three cities! So lucky!), and amazingly what turned out to be such a fun week. From Paris to London to LA, I was able to see everyone I love in the span of two weeks. Simply visiting London always results in me running around like a madman, on a mission to see everyone and do everything in a limited amount of time. I'm always on the go (and usually in ill-suited shoes, of course), exhausted by day's end, but it always pays back in spades.

I left London in time to be home for Christmas. Though throughout the two day festivities, I fell asleep more than once. (Jet lag and stretching my limbs across every available sofa.) Its been nice to see my family and do absolutely nothing for the first time in a year! Its been a completely exhilarating year. I can't think of something I haven't done this year. I suppose when I go for something, I go for it completely. If not, what's the point? I went after everything I wanted from this year and got even more. There were bumps along the road, but I need to get used to the fact that there always is. I was temporarily daunted by the blows of the last few weeks of my adventure, but instead I'll chalk it up to a massive test of endurance. Everything I've done was worth it. I refuse to be tamed by a few setbacks and while I have yet to wrap my head around just what my next adventure will be, I know I can't sit still for long.

It has admittedly been a me me me year. The crazy goals I held and what I needed to do to achieve them. Though I went through my adventures alone, there was always an amazing group to aid me along at each post. I can only hope to help make this next year as great for all of you as you've done for me this year. (Though don't expect the barrage of inappropriate jokes to conclude.) Unlike 2011, I don't at all have a concise plan or goals for 2012. LA is warm and my time here is shaping up to be quite thrilling. But as I said, I can't sit still for long. Sans plan, I'm content with knowing that whatever I do with this coming year will be incredible.

Cafe in the backstreets of Montmartre. I returned here on my final night, gathered with friends to reflect on our wild time in Paris over cafe creme and desserts.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story: Conversing with Rolling Stone's Founding Photographer Baron Wolman

As revolution exploded in the mid sixties, there was one man who captured it best. Beginning as Rolling Stone's first chief photographer, Baron Wolman was on hand to photograph countless landmark events of the next decade. He was onstage with Santana at Woodstock and left Altamont before the violence ensued. From Jimi to Janis, his archives act a comprehensive look at the luminaries of the era. After three years at Rolling Stone, he left to pursue a variety of other ventures, beginning with Rags, a counterculture fashion magazine. From aviation and aerial photography, to the ruthless and sensual original Roller Derby, and a year on the road with the Oakland Raiders, Baron Wolman has certainly explored what he calls life's "big buffet table". Overlooking the Thames from ten floors up, I probed Baron on his vast career as a photographer. Less focused on the subjects of the photos, I am far more intrigued by the passion with which Baron entered each field, and why they attracted him initially. Of each subject, he speaks with pure fascination and a limitlessly humble nature. Baron recently released a new book, Every Picture Tells A Story: The Rolling Stone Years.

How did you end up in Berlin in the sixties?

I was a counterspy. Somebody had to catch the spies that they were sending over. It was a way of fulfilling my military obligations. Back in those days, if when you finished college, you didn't go into graduate school, they drafted you into the army. But if you agreed to do something special, whatever it was they wanted you to do, and give them an extra year, they'd let you do something cool. First, I chose to be in the Intelligence Corps, then I chose to learn German in language school. When I got to Germany, they said, "Where do you want to go?" I thought, Berlin sounds good. So I went to Berlin. Photography had been a hobby for years and years, but it was in Berlin that it became a profession. I was there when the Berlin Wall was going up. I took a lot of pictures, wrote a story, and sent it to my hometown. They ran the entire thing on the front page of the features section saying Local Boy on the Front Line of What Could Be World War III. They sent me a check for fifty bucks, so I figured I'd make my hobby my profession. That was the period I decided it was what I was going to do, because I was getting paid for something I loved to do anyway. 

Where did you go after Berlin?

To Los Angeles. I stayed there about eighteen months and got married. My ex-wife was a ballet dancer. I became an impresario, producing ballet at theatres in LA. But there's the traffic and the air... She wanted to dance for the San Francisco ballet and I wanted to go back after visiting and loving the place. We drove north and wandered around, wondering where we wanted to live. We drove through the Haight-Ashbury and said, "Look at those hippies. They look like our kind of people." So we found a place to rent in the Haight. 

Did you start shooting music because you loved it or because it was conveniently near you?

Because it was there, but I also loved it. It was one of the many cool things to shoot. I think Ross [Halfin] for example, had much more of an affinity for the music. For me it was just another subject, that I happened to love. I didn't have the passion for it like those guys. I saw myself as a photojournalist. I saw photography as a way to discover the world. When I would want to meet beautiful women, I would photograph them so I could interact with the subject. I liked sports, so I started shooting NFL. When I wanted to take aerial photos, I bought a plane and learned to fly. I'd open the window, steer with my elbow, and take pictures. Photography was always a way for me to find out more about life for myself.

What was initially thrilling about being at Rolling Stone?

The great thing about being at Rolling Stone was to be involved in something that was just starting. Its fun to be at the start of anything, to be an integral part of something that we had no idea of how long it would last. I had been part of other projects that had been good and ended up failing in one way or another - really good, cool things. It just seemed like a cool idea. The music was good, there was free music in the parks, the Fillmore Auditorium was there, the Avalon Ballroom was there. Music was everywhere and it was very photogenic. I didn't get paid, so it was just a commitment I was making to something that seemed like it was going to go somewhere. This idea sounded good. There was no guarantees but it sounded good.

How did it eventually become less than stimulating for you?

It was stimulating, but after about three years... Because I wasn't a music fan, I was interested in life, in every aspect of life. When I got to a point with something where I felt I knew and understood it, I wanted to move onto something else. I began to feel I was taking the same pictures with different faces. I photographed Jimi Hendrix, for example. There is simply never going to be anyone like him again, and I knew that. This guy was like a shooting star. A lot of bands asked me to do pictures, but it was just four guys and another four guys. You did the best you could and tried to get good pictures, but it was too repetitive. I see life as a big buffet table. If you get stuck at the appetizers, you don't get all of this wonderful thing we call life. That's good and bad. You never really explore that one subject fully, but I felt I explored it enough for me.

Describe your time shooting the majority of Bill Graham's Days on the Green at Oakland Coliseum.

It was cool! The Days on the Green - holy fuck, it was one after another. Have you read the Wikipedia page on it? He was brilliant, Bill Graham, and what he brought to those concerts. I never would have seen half of those bands if it wasn't for those concerts. I had never photographed Led Zeppelin and that was the only time. Same with AC/DC.

Why did you choose fashion as your next endeavor?

I had shot for Vogue. I enjoyed shooting for Vogue, but not the way they said I had to shoot. They told me I had to put Donovan in clothes they sent me, so they could refer to the retailers. But I liked working for them, working for Vanity Fair, for anybody that would hire me. I did a really good job at working for most of the magazines. Another funny one was a gay editor telling me to make sure Ryan O'Neal took his shirt off. He didn't care. There was another movie star I went to photograph. I showed up in she's in this sheer blouse, completely naked underneath. I wasn't sure if it was how she wanted to be photographed or if she was doing it for me...

Maybe a bit of both.

You know how LA is.

Then you started a fashion magazine, Rags.

The reason I really liked it because one of my friends had been at Vogue and another at Harpers Bazaar. They saw Rolling Stone and they said, "What we need is the fashion version of Rolling Stone. Can you help us get this started?" I told them, "Not only will I help you get it started, I'll be part of it with you." I had had my run at Rolling Stone and I knew how to raise the money and all the details. Rolling Stone moved their offices two streets over, so I took over the old Rolling Stone offices, hired some of their people, and that's how we started. It was real, true fashion. We believed that true fashion starts on the streets. Somebody throws stuff together, walks down the street, a designer sees it and turns it into something. A lot of our photography was done on the street, getting people who looked cool. You see more of that now. That's where the innovation comes from. We had the best time. It was a really fun magazine. The reason we didn't keep going is that we hit a big recession and the advertisers weren't paying their bills. I couldn't fund it forever. For example, when we reviewed albums, we wouldn't review the music, we'd review the clothes the artists were wearing on the covers. It was a hugely successful thing for me. It changed how Women's Wear Daily approached fashion. We saw the dramatic changes. We were written up in Time and were on TV all the time. It was exactly what women wanted. They didn't want to be told to wear something unattractive, so we opposed it. We called it fashion fascism. In those days, you didn't have the freedom of expression you have now. In the sixties, there were huge changes happened where individuality was suddenly honored. You didn't have to fit into the mold. Before that, you had to fit into the mold. My dad always said, "The clothes make the man. Wear this stuff and people will treat you differently." In those days, he was right. But none of us wanted to be like marching soldiers in society. We were creative individuals and we wanted to express that. That's really what that whole hippie revolution was about. You heard it in the music and you saw it in the clothes. The two together, Rags and Rolling Stone, were perfectly symbiotic.

How did your relationship with the Raiders start?

I had friends who were working in the NFL. They gave me an assignment one day to go out and shoot the 49ers. Then I discovered the Raiders and thought, Who are these outlaws? It was the perfect time for them. By then I had started a book publishing company [Squarebooks]. We'd been doing books on lots of stuff, like the building of the Golden Gate Bridge [Spanning The Gate]. Its a killer book, still in print. We were all football fans and decided we'd spend a year with the Raiders and do a book about it [Oakland Raiders: The Good Guys]. These guys were outlaws, they were different, marching to the beat of a different drum. I knew by then that the only way to get good pictures was to have access. We went to Al Davis and said, "We need access to your team. We want to spend a year with your team and do a book. You can look at the text after for accuracy but you can't change our editorial point of view." He said that we could do it. "Come along."  We spent the whole year with the Raiders, as many days of the week as we wanted to. We went on trips with them, on the planes, to away games. We photographed them, talked to them, hung out with them.

What prompted you to learn to fly?

I'd always wanted to fly. I never thought I would be good enough to be able to fly. I saw people that were flying and thought it was a language I'd never learn. Then a friend of mine, who was also a photographer, wanted to learn to fly as well. There was a third guy and a girl. We all got together, bought an airplane for something like 3000 dollars, and we all learned to fly on that plane. What really intrigued me about it, apart from the fact that not many people did it, was you could go out and be like a bird. Fly around with nobody in your way. The pictures you could take were a really unique perspective of our planet - how we fucked it up, the beauty, and the combination of the two. The first book I did, California From The Air: The Golden Coast, showed the entire coast of California. It showed where it was still beautiful and where we had destroyed it. It had really good text that talked about both aspects of it. It became another tool of photography. It was so exciting. I'd say, "Do you want to go flying? Let's go flying. Put your hands on the control wheel very lightly. Gently pull back." And then the plane would go up and they'd go, "Oh my god, we're flying!" It was so great to do that with people. Its something we want to do, to free ourselves from the ground somehow, spiritually or physically or both. I'll never forget how many cool experiences I had with first time riders in that plane. In order to get the kind of pictures I liked to get, I'd fly low and slow. Its nice, but if anything happens, it happens fast. I was flying back from Monterey to Santa Rosa, and all of a sudden the engine quit. I had no power. I had to do an emergency landing. Fortunately, it was successful. Up until that point, I had total faith in the machine. But it broke, and if it broke once... It broke in a very convenient place. I was able to glide into a nearby airport. After that, I fell out of love with it. I sold it when I moved to Santa Fe in 2001.

What do you strive to achieve in a photograph?

I believe in my vision of the world. Whether its your face or that landscape, I believe that there's something there worth saying. I try to communicate what I see and what I believe. For example, with the music photographs, there was no music videos or anything at that time. The only way people who didn't attend a concert were able to experience it visually were still images. What I tried to achieve then was what it was like to be there at that moment, at that concert, with that person singing or playing guitar.

Do you still shoot at all?

Not much, a bit on my point and shoots. I have my heavy artillery but I don't use it much anymore. I'm not excited about photography now, for a lot of different reasons. Not the least of which is the advent of digital photography, where everybody has a camera and everybody is a photographer. That doesn't bother me. That's good news and bad news. Digital has democratized photography. That's good. Its released a huge amount of visual creativity that many people didn't even realise they had. That's exciting. On the other hand, there are so many images. Its hard for the best of the best to bubble up to the top. When it does, it goes by so quickly. Its not held in the same esteem that it was when I was working, when it was really an important way of communicating. It still is, in a whole different way. Now its just one of many. I don't like being one of many. One of the reasons I changed subjects so frequently was when other people started doing it, it was less interesting to me. I did roller derby and that was really exciting. I had been told by my father, "Don't hit women." I saw these beautiful women slamming into each other, rolling around. I thought, This is almost sexual! It turns out my friend's dad invented the original roller derby. So again, I got total access, and it makes all the difference. If you don't have access, you might as well not be a photographer. I had a great time.

Whom do you most wished you photographed but didn’t get the chance to?

Well, I shot a Beatle, George Harrison, but wouldn't it have been nice to shoot all four? The list is endless. I was lazy, first of all. I shot Pink Floyd when they first came to San Francisco. Didn't go to the concert. Bands would come through and I'd sit at home with my wife. I wish I had gone to more of the Day on the Green concerts. I would have loved to have shot Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. Mellencamp, there was something very soulful about the guy. He had easily accessible ideas in his music. But in the beginning, in his albums, he was using black and white photography the way I loved black and white photography. I was just waiting for the call. But I was usually caught up on assignment, so I didn't have time to go chasing people. I got some pretty damn good people though.

What goals do you have for yourself now?

My biggest challenge now is to figure out what to do with the archives. Of course I'd like someone to buy them, but to also steward the archives. Someone who cares about music, knew how important the collection is - not because I did it, but because it exists historically. I'd like them to make the pictures accessible for the future. That's a big challenge. Beyond that, I'd like to find the passion in photography again. Take the cameras and follow through another exploratory journey. It seems as if sadly everything has been photographed, not by me. But almost everything that I did, I was around early on in the development of that subject.

Why did you decide to do this book?

The main reason is I very deeply believe that the pictures themselves tell a story, but there are also stories behind the pictures that add flavor and character to the experience of looking at them. These stories and these pictures will survive me. Jim Marshall had great stories, and Robert Whitaker had great stories. But the stories are gone. Somebody should get these stories. Once they're gone, they're gone. I think they're stories that need to be left behind. Then Dave [Brolan, photo editor] said, "You've got to do a book!" I said, "I don't have enough pictures." He was the driving force. He arranged the contract. He was the one who pushed me to do it. We went to Paris, because we both wanted to get away. I gathered the pictures and we sat at the cafes everyday. He had his recorder and he'd record my stories of each picture. I'd go on and on. He then sent me this big transcription. I then had to go away with that. The guy who wrote the introduction, Jerry Hopkins, lives in Bangkok. So I went to Bangkok for two weeks and sat in a beautiful hotel room, making it into something you can read.

If you had to pick one photo that best encapsulates your career, which would it be?

There ain't one, darlin'.

What's your favorite of your music photos?

I always go back to the book's cover, the Jimi Hendrix photo. That particular photo was perfect. There's nothing you could do to that picture to improve upon it. The elation and ecstasy on the part of the musician... Photographically, it was positioned perfectly. The next moment would have been less interesting. The previous moment would have been less interesting. That was the moment. Everything there works. If you look at it, you get it! You get what Jimi Hendrix was all about. The length of his fingers, how he held his guitar, playing left-handed, the way he dressed, his expression, the light all around him. There was a big burst behind him. It just happened.

Photos by Baron Wolman. © Baron Wolman