Woodstock Festival is by far the largest European summer festival. The Prodigy, Shaggy, Bring Me The Horizon or Anthrax, to name just a few recent editions’ headliners, gather an audience of over 500k people. Woodstock, however, aims to become much more than just a music event: a symbol of an open society and dialogue – just like the original festival did, back in 1969.
This year it was the fourth time that I was shooting the festival as a member of the official photo team. When I first climbed the photo pit overlooking the crowd in front of the stage, I felt like a bird sitting high on its perch. The view was staggering, I tried but could hardly keep my hands from shivering. Back then, it all seemed like a photographer’s dream come true, I saw Woodstock as a never ending stream of colorful images. All I had to do was to fish out my frames. Click, click, click.
It was not until this year, however, that I understood that it takes much more to construct a powerful photo story. My first glance was as true as it was deceptive: the abundance of people and interesting situations made Woodstock both the easiest and the hardest festival I’ve ever shot.
Sure, you can wander around for a while snapping the curiosities and portraits, but in fact, you are only scratching the surface. I knew I needed more time to show the full picture (pun intended), but when you are one of the Woodstock’s staff photographers, time is in short supply.
I turned up at the festival two days before its official opening and, as soon as I have unloaded my gear, I sprinted off to the tent area. For hours and hours, I cruised the festival fields (stretched across the 160 hectares), greeted hundreds of smiling people and sought for good shots which would capture the Woodstock atmosphere. We were all tired after a long travel to Kostrzyn, but at least the sun was burning and spirits were high.
Our good moods shifted the following day: the sun has disappeared behind dense, dark clouds, and heavy rain remodeled the festival ground into a maze of swampy passages and puddles the size of a small lake. I “weatherproofed” the camera with a plastic bag, put on my hiking boots and dragged my feet through the mud. It just wouldn’t be fair to you to show this year’s Woodstock without the rain.
Woodstock Festival – like a psychedelic drug – holds a magical power to pull me out of the real world. For just a couple of days, I had the chance to become a part of a society built on a solid foundation of mutual understanding, tolerance, and – relative – freedom. Sounds too good to be true? Visit Poland next year and see for yourself.