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There and Back The Photography of Jim Shelley at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair

Jim Shelley was 19 years old when he attended the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. He went to the festival with an interest in the art fair aspect of the event. Though he never got to see the art at Woodstock, he ended up creating some of his own by taking a collection of photographs on Saturday and Sunday. These photographs on slide film are in the permanent collection at the Museum at Bethel Woods.

Bethel on the News

Hearing the news reports of traffic surrounding Bethel, Jim and his friend Tony departed on Friday evening in hopes of arriving to the festival in time for the Saturday performances.

Photo taken Saturday morning, August 16th, 1969

They get as far as Route 17B before they hit stop and start traffic.

Photo taken Saturday morning, August 16th, 1969

Seven and a half miles away from the Woodstock site, Jim and Tony sleep in their car for the night.

Photo taken Saturday morning, August 16th, 1969

At about 6 A.M. on Saturday morning, they begin their trek to the Woodstock site.

Photo taken Saturday morning, August 16th, 1969

Jim Shelley on 17B:

Saturday Morning, August 16th, 1969

While some festival attendees were prepared for the weekend, like the group above with their camper, grill, and plenty of hot dogs and Coca-Cola, Jim and Tony were less so.

“We each had a sleeping bag. I had a 35 millimeter camera and the binoculars I had borrowed from my girlfriend's father. We brought some money to buy food with, and that was it. We didn't bring any food. We didn't bring any other gear. Raincoats, boots, extra shoes, nothing. We just were going to walk in.”
Saturday afternoon, August 16th, 1969
“When we started walking, it was a kind of a foggy, misty morning, but by the time we got to the site, the sun had come out and burned off any mist and fog that there was... [We] walked to the top of the field. We're, like I suppose everybody else, amazed at the number of people. Started walking down into the crowd, looking for a place for us to sit down and spread out our sleeping bags to sit on, and found a spot amongst a bunch of people.”
Saturday afternoon, August 16th, 1969

No Dinner, and a Show

“We sat down in that spot on Saturday and didn't leave that spot basically other than to walk around a little bit, looking for food at one point... A couple people shared some oranges with us, but that’s all we had to eat.”

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

The music slated for Saturday and Sunday attracted Jim to the festival, the first of the day to perform was Quill.

Photo of Quill on stage taken through binoculars. Saturday afternoon, August 16th, 1969

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

Saturday Afternoon, August 16th, 1969

After a long night of music and little sleep, the crowd wakes up to the music of Jefferson Airplane.

Sunday Morning

“We were hungry, and soaking, and the both of us had to be at work on Monday morning... We had just pulled our car off the road. We're worried about whether the car is still there. Had they towed the car? We hadn't left it in somebody's front yard; it was just off the side of the road. But we decided to go back to the car and go home.”

Laurita Roc, a festival attendee, through binoculars.

Sunday morning, August 17th, 1969

After Joe Cocker’s performance, Jim and Tony left the festival. As they were walking, they could hear Country Joe & The Fish take the stage.

Sunday morning, August 17th, 1969

“When people look at those pictures today, or when I look at them today, I notice things that I didn't notice at the time, particularly the pictures I took on the site itself... I see lots of things in the picture that I didn't realize are interesting and important to people who have questions about the event 51 years later.”

This project was made possible in part by the Museum Association of New York and the Institute of Museum and Library Services [CAGML-246991-OMLS-20].

Credits:

Jim Shelley, 1969