If you’re in the D.C. area between now and October 31, make time to check out the Newseum’s recently opened “Woodstock at 40” photo gallery – not just for the story, but for the story behind the story.
The back-story is that major news organizations largely underestimated the significance of the upstate New York music festival. As a result, they captured relatively few photos of what became a cultural touchstone for the tuned-in, turned-off generation. But Dan Garson, a 17-year-old Connecticut high school newspaper photographer, didn’t miss the story.
Garson, whose life was cut short by cancer in 1992, left behind the most extensive known portfolio of images from the August 1969 music fair, and the best of his work is on display at the Newseum.
There is a tendency for the adult world to minimize the contribution that teenage journalists can make, and for their schools to think of journalism – if they think of it at all – as an annoyance to be minimized. Dan Garson’s legacy reminds us that teenagers can bring a fresh perspective to events that adult eyes miss or minimize.
Today, far too many high school administrators would forbid a student journalist from covering an event like Woodstock – “Glorifying drug use!” – and most assuredly would ban photos of the event from “their” publication. Our cultural archive is richer because Dan Garson was allowed to do something outside the typical principal’s comfort zone.