Things are pretty quiet at potter Richard Busch’s Glenfiddich Farm near Leesburg, and nature holds an important place in his work. But 50 years ago, Busch was a young photographer specializing in rock stars and hippies. This summer, Busch is spotlighting his dramatic black and white photos of the Woodstock music festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this week.
“I wasn’t interested in the performances. I was interested in the peripheral stuff that was going on,” Busch said. “The things that I remember most are the energy, the people running around having a good time. It was a visual feast for the eyes.”
For the past 20 years, Busch and his wife Olwen Woodier have made their home at the farm on a quiet lane west of Leesburg. But in the late ’60s, as a New York-based photographer, Busch was immersed in city life, shooting rock stars like Ike and Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Roger Daltrey, Jerry Garcia and Mick Jagger, along with NYC street scenes and anti-war demonstrations. When Woodstock came around, of course he was there.
Busch, now 78, started his career in journalism as a cub reporter forLifemagazine in 1965. Part of his job as a young writer was to accompany the magazine’s photographers on shoots. Busch became captivated by the photographers’ art. He got to know his colleagues and learned to shoot and print inLife’sdarkroom.
“1967 was the beginning of my plunge into the world of photography. I got deeper and deeper into it and it’s never left,” Busch said. “I’m still taking pictures.”
By the time Woodstock came around in 1969, Busch was an established freelance photographer, with access to the backstage world of the festival’s musicians, along with all of the fascinating action around the edges. Busch and his then-girlfriend, entertainment journalist Robin Richman, to whom he was later briefly married, immersed themselves in the world of the festival. From organizers and stars to everyday people who flocked to the festival, including couples and families, Busch captured it all. Some of his best-known festival photos are shots of children and a series focusing on noted yoga master and Woodstock guru Sri Swami Satchidananda. Several of Busch’s shots were published inLife’s special issue on Woodstock.
When the recession of the mid-1970s hit and freelance work started to dry up, Buschtook a series of jobs in publishing. He worked as an editor atPopular Photographyand was named editor-in-chief at the start-up in-flight magazineUSAir. In the early 1980s, Busch took an editorial position atNational Geographic Travelermagazine in Washington, DC, and his family moved from New York to Northern Virginia.
Ceramics came into Busch’s life through a neighbor in Vienna, and what started as a few classes at a local community center turned into a second act passion. After a couple of years of classes, Busch acquired a wheel and kiln and began taking workshops with noted master potters. The next phase came when he was offered a buyout for early retirement fromNational Geographic. Busch’s retirement plan to focus on ceramics kicked in. He and Woodier found their idyllic farm in Loudoun and converted an 1840s barn into studio space, turning the stables into a workshop and showroom.
“I just got serious about pottery and kind of plunged into it,” Busch said. “Doing ceramic work is extremely satisfying creatively. … I’m constantly thinking about forms and color, decorative techniques. It just keeps going.”
Busch is best known on the Loudoun arts scene as a potter, and ceramics occupies much of his day-to-day—he’s currently working on a series of plates using impressions of natural forms like branches and grasses. But photography remains an important force in Busch’s life, both in terms of new work and reevaluating and organizing older work. In the past few years, Busch has self-published several books of his work, organized thematically, and five of those collections were selected for the library at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Museum of the City of New York has also added several of his NYC photos to its permanent collection.
“I’m still going over them and rediscovering things I’d forgotten about. It’s one of the strange things I’ve learned about photography over the years: you go back and look at what you did 10, 20, 30 years ago, and you see things that you saw at the time, but it didn’t strike you necessarily that they were really great pictures,” Busch said.
Reexamining his Woodstock photos in recent weeks has also been thought provoking and a little nostalgic, Busch said.
“The [Woodstock] children are now in their 50s and 60s,” Busch said. “There’s a sense of the passage of time. When you get to my age that’s a reality. You think about the passage of time and reflect.”
But on a gorgeous summer day at Busch’s beautiful farm studio, there’s a sense of a life well-lived and the joy of making art in both of his beloved media.
“It’s been a continuing process,” Busch said. “I don’t know where it’s going to end up, but it sure has been fun and interesting and exciting.”