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More about Woodstock: Poster for Sale

By the Time I Got to Woodstock..


© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

The situation in the sixties for Photographers was most positive. Compared to the present situation, in which magazines exist as throwaways, the content and pictures nothing but fill between ads, the 60s were a time of real passion in publishing, the same spirit that moved the folks at Woodstock lived at Harper’s and Random House as well. The most lovely people were active in the industry at that time, people who believed, people motivated by the desire to be the best they could be, to create something special, a really ‘Great Book’ as it was referred to back then. They wanted their lives to count for more than just pedestrian commerce and money.

They were therefore most receptive to we younger Photographers who shared that ideal. They fought for their projects, they fought for us, they fought for themselves, and it is a tribute to those lovely people, most of them Women, that milestones in the attainment of Women’s Rights were reached during this period. It is a sad comment that the right to work in pants and T Shirts and enjoy a most casual lifestyle at work is now simply taken for granted by the youngsters who fill those slots today, with little appreciation for the donnybrooks their Sisters fought to win those privileges.

It was possible for aspiring Photographers to make a good living as Freelancers back then doing the most interesting Editorial work, but you could go so far and no further; upward mobility stopped at the doors of Time-Life. The Woodstock Festival struck a blow for retribution that is known by few and I was one of the biggest winners in that sweet game. But I am getting ahead of myself. Something far more Important must be related as preface, the essence of the 60s. I’m talking about MAGIC.

Unlike most of the other participants at the Festival, I was not of the 60s generation at all but a member of that generation that preceded it, a fifties Beat, a former Jazz musician, one of the spiritual fathers of the hippie thing, much in the same way as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg you could say. But the 60s dealt Jazz a crushing blow; already on shaky economic footing for all of its history, now it could no longer serve as the music of the underground, that function having been taken over by Dylan and the Stones, the Boys from Liverpool of course. The advent of Rock represented the end of an important chapter of my life and my feelings were somewhat mixed therefore. I thought the Festival would be a good thing to ‘cover’, but I was not that motivated to attend otherwise. (Pleased to relate that there has been a significant resurgence of interest in Jazz at the present date.)

Something eerie happened—what can be described as the ‘cosmic vibrations’ talked about by the folks in the East Village and other similar communities all over the world. I picked up the Village Voice, and when I glanced at the ad as I had many times before, this time I felt all tingly with excitement. It was like a scene in one of these adventure films where the hero picks up an item and it radiates some kind of Power. I experienced what can only be understood by a 60s sensibility as a ‘Rush’, the cosmic summons to the Gathering of the Tribes.

Being that it was already somewhat late I rushed to the phone and called my Agent, who volunteered to pay for Film and Processing if I could get a Press Pass. A follow-up call to the East Village Other, a Rival Counter Culture paper to the Voice back then, landed what turned out to be the best credentials I could ask for. It was all just SO easy. I rode the bus for three hours to Monticello and another hour and a half to get to Bethel in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was wearing my bell-bottom jeans, a Pakistani T, my faded jeans jacket, and ever-present water buffalo sandals. I had borrowed lenses and an extra body for my old Pentax, and I slept in the rain with the rest of the clan.

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