Baron Wolman, Rolling Stone’s first staff photographer, dies at 83

Baron Wolman, Rolling Stone’s first staff photographer, passed away at age 83 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His longtime representative, Dianne Duenzl, confirmed the news to Rolling Stone this past Monday night. ‘Baron’s pictures gave us a rare, comprehensive, and accurate reflection of that time executed by a gifted artist whose visual intelligence is unsurpassed,’ Duenzl stated.

Wolman was born on June 25, 1937, in Columbus, Ohio, and studied philosophy at Chicago’s Northwestern University. He learned to speak German at the Defense Language School in Monterey, California, before touring with the Army military intelligence in West Berlin. This is where he began his career in photography. He sold his first photo essay, documenting life behind the newly-constructed Berlin Wall, to a print publication.

He returned to Monterey shortly after to pursue a career as a photojournalist. In the mid-1960s, he lived in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district and worked as a freelance photographer. One of his clients, Oakland’s Mills College, invited him to cover their weekend seminar on the pop music industry. Also in attendance: Jann S. Wenner and Ralph Gleason.

Wenner and Gleason were working on plans for a new music publication. They initially asked Wolman if he had $10,000 to invest in Rolling Stone. He didn’t. Instead, he offered to work for free if the magazine would cover the costs of film and the development of his photos. In a smart business move, Wolman also requested he retain the rights to all of his images.

Wolman went on to shoot the the premiere issue’s cover, featuring the Grateful Dead. Later on, he captured a rare image of their eccentric lead singer, Jerry Garcia, when he raised his hand and revealed a partially missing middle finger. Artists trusted Wolman and opened up to him in an era before handlers carefully constructed their public personas.

Artists trusted Wolman and opened up to him in an era before handlers carefully constructed their public personas.

He not only captured artists performing live, and their fans in the moment at events such as Woodstock, Wolman was also granted backstage access. His most memorable images contain intimate moments with some of rock’s more interesting personalities including Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and Frank Zappa.

Wolman left Rolling Stone in 1970 and went on to capture images for advertising companies, the NFL, government agencies, universities, and more. His work appeared in leading print publications including Esquire, Vogue, Playboy, and Newsweek. Besides the Berlin Wall, he also documented Israel in flux. Many of these events are documented in his numerous books.

Baron is survived by his sister, Susan, and his brother, Richard. His longtime motto? ‘Mixing business with pleasure since 1965.’