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By the Time I Got to Woodstock..


© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

© Shelly Rusten 1969

(continued from page 1)

When I arrived at the stage, the Establishment Press was corralled behind a rope, despite loud and angry protests and the frantic waving of press cards. The Festival staff was getting off kicking Establishment butt. They would all have to wait until the important people showed up. And who the hell was that, the Time-Lifers demanded, who was this royaIty? It was ME! Yes, it’s true, I swear it. I came in there, and two staff gorillas stopped me like everyone else. When I flashed the EVO credentials, their eyes lit up. “Yeah Brother, bout time you showed up.” I was escorted to the best vantage point from which to shoot, a large scaffold connecting the stage to the fence in front. It was a marvelous moment. I’ll never forget the look on the faces on those Hotshots, they were glaring at me, some of them even shouting to me, “Get me In, Get me in.” This moment of turn about was not lost on them.

But the magic wasn’t over yet. After the Festival all the Photographers who had been there were running around frantically trying to place pictures. There was a line at the Life desk, rumors of book productions were followed up frantically, everyone scurrying up and down Madison Avenue with portfolios. A most prestigious Photo Agency called me to look at my work for a book and ended up ripping off one of my slides and publishing it under the credit of one of their own people. When confronted they acted as if this act of piracy was no big deal and gave me a check to shut me up. I took it, knowing full well they could ruin my career if I didn’t.

Ah, but I had the last laugh, and a belly-whopper too. I made more money on a single image of Woodstock than any other photographer. It happened because I was on the right wavelength, because the Spirit of Woodstock was on the side of righteousness. I went to the Warner Bros. Publicity Department as others had when they heard about production of the Movie, but in my case the timing was uncannily perfect. The Force was with me as it had been from the start. The Concept for the Ad campaign had been decided upon and the Deadline pressure was on. A woman named Rhona was pulling some shots of the performers out of my take when the call came from the Ad Agency for “a crowd shot, clean, fine resolution, all 400,000 people in one shot head on.”

There was a pause, a moment in time that seemed like an eternity, Rhona and I staring at each other as she contemplated what to do, all the time holding her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. Then a light went on in her eyes and a sweet smile took the place of the calculating expression she had before; for all her PR business savvy, the Woodstock Spirit had gotten to her heart also and she knew what she had to do. She said to the voice on the phone, “I got it. It’s right here now. The guy is sitting in my office and he has exactly what you want.”

Postscript
With the windfall from the Warner Bros Poster and Ads I bought a Leica M4 and Nikon F with a couple of lenses and went to South Carolina for the Methodist Church to photograph some Black Gullah folks who were in danger of getting pushed off their land. I didn’t get much for the job, but I felt good about it. Later I got tired of the rat race of freelancing and dropped out to teach and just concentrate on my Art. I found further influence for my work in that of Harry Callahan and Walker Evans and bought a farm in the Catskills not far from Bethel.

One day I happened back on Max Yasgur’s place and I blew a kiss to the wind.

© 2007 Shelly Rusten, NYC

The Original Woodstock Poster : Poster for Sale