(1 of 6 covers of Lid Magazine, Issue #17: Twiggy by Terry O'Neil)
Baron Wolman: Profiles
Baron Wolman loves women! His affection for rock and roll is well documented: Janis, Jimi, B.B., Pete, Mick, the royalty of Rock & Roll’s who’s who. But no subject has caught Baron’s imagination more than the beauty of woman.
Having deployed an array of photographic techniques and styles over his career, and photographed a variety of subjects from music to sports to portraits, with each assignment, Baron always tried to find a way to make his work more personal.
1974, in his small Mill Valley, California, studio Baron set up a couple of lights, a seamless background, and with his longtime camera of choice, a Nikon, he went to work on a new photographic project: 44 different portraits of women’s breast in profile.
His self-given assignment was inspired by a doodle Baron frequently auto-sketched during college lectures. “It was a breast in profile, I realized afterwards. Years later I was working with a nude model and I shot a bunch of pictures; one of them turned out to be that very same doodle if, say,
you were to fill it in. The line of the photograph was exactly the same as the line of the doodle I had made all those years ago in college. Eureka! ‘Wait a second, I think there’s a project here!’”
The project would appropriately be titled “Profiles”.
Having already established himself as a photographer of note, Wolman knew several willing women who trusted him and were fascinated by the project; they, in turn knew other women who were equally interested. All were comfortable and relaxed with him; his elfin smile, the kind words he chooses to use in his stories, the excitement in his voice - there’s a certain charm Baron expresses that makes you want to trust him.
“I had no problem getting models once the project got going,” he explained. “Most women are fundamentally exhibitionists. They like to reveal themselves to the camera, but they want the photographic experience to be elegant, flattering, maybe even a bit sexy.”
The anonymity seemed to add excitement to their “fifteen minutes of fame.” Their faces weren’t shown, so they could, as Baron would put it, more easily do “The Exhibition Dance.” Not being identifiable gave them the freedom and comfort to express themselves publicly more than they might in their everyday lives.
“There was one model – she was a Bank of America Branch Manager – and she just thought having her breasts photographed was the coolest idea ever. But she forcefully reminded me I could never reveal her name or who she was. I thought that was pretty brave of her, that she had the balls to come in and be photographed semi-nude, putting her job at risk.”
(Two different versions of the cover for Baron Wolman's Profiles, a photographic project capturing 44 different portraits of women's breasts in profile.)
Another totally unflappable woman, Baron admitted, was his then-wife, Juliana. “She’d be sitting in the studio reading a book while I was doing all this nude shooting. Yes, it was a little bizarre: ‘Oh that’s what’s going on? That’s cool, man, whatever you want.’” Baron remembers with a laugh, “I have to hand it to her. She had no jealousy genes. She knew it was art. She knew I wasn’t going to fool around with the models (at least, I assumed she hoped I wouldn’t!). She saw it as a unique, never-before-done project. She was and still is, a very good woman.”
As Baron remembers it, the women were all attractive; “revisionist memory,” he calls it. But each brought something else to the table besides her body. “The women were not defined by their breasts; they were intelligent, conversational and had other, wide-ranging interests.” A couple of the women even had their boyfriends by their side at the studio as Baron shot them.
“For each breast I wanted two basic views, nipples normal, nipples erect.” I would shoot the normal boob, and then ask the model to make her nipple erect. She would smile and comply, but after a few sessions, one of them said to me, ‘Look, it would be a lot easier for you to do it! If you do it for me, it’ll get harder faster!’ I didn’t need to be asked twice! From then on it became part of my total photo ‘skill set’ - rubbing nipples, getting them to stand at attention.”
For Baron, the “nipple experience” added a measure of erotic affection to the shoot. The women, however, brought their own fantasies to the sessions, making the project more collaborative, something much more memorable than, “Come in, get your tits shot, goodbye.”
“We’d hang out a bit, get to know each other… It was pretty intimate when you consider it. In those days, mind you, nudity and sexuality were still pretty much seen as puritanical. Sure, it was the beginning of the ‘Peace, Love, Music, Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll’ era, but there was still plenty of hesitancy on the part of folks who had been taught to live a certain way and were yet to become more fully free.”
There was also something very innocent about the project. It bordered on the erotic but it wasn’t sexual. The breast appealed to Baron because it was always covered, the element of secrecy sparked his interest in this sacred body part. But beyond that, he explained that the breast in profile has a very elegant shape, and this graphic elegance also appealed to him – it’s evident in his photos.
Wolman was non-judgmental in photographing the breasts. If a woman arrived with a particularly unique looking nipple, for example, he was thrilled: “Gotta have that one in the book!” One of his models had such big, firm breasts that Baron decided to use her boobs twice, one of them in the beginning of the series, the other at the end, “bookends” to the collection he calls them.
“When the project was completed, the book published, I gave each of the models a copy of the finished book, but virtually none recognized her own breast, even when there were very clear telltale signs – moles, scars, and the like. If you were to ask them to look in the mirror, they’d say, “Oh shit, that’s me!” But most couldn’t identify themselves from their personal “Profile.”
Baron Wolman is a gifted artist; a lover of women; a true provocateur. He was able to take an intellectual idea, an erotic one at that, and transform his vision into reality. “It’s such a deeply satisfying feeling to go from idea to reality. Making art like that nourishes the soul.”
Wolman’s photographs have been published in dozens of books and magazines and his work has been exhibited in galleries throughout the world. Baron is currently collaborating with Woodstock organizer Michael lang, Carlos Santana and editor Dagon James on a major book of photographs documenting his experience at the “3 Days of Peace & Music” festival, Woodstock 1969.
“Everyday is another journey!” I can hear his laugh. “Every single day!”