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Fifty Years Later, Iconic Woodstock Photograph Still Makes Waves

Burk Uzzle's image of loving (and muddy) couple at Woodstock has become a symbol for the 1960s hopes for a better future.

Detail of Woodstock photograph
Detail of Woodstock photograph
Juan David Romero

Woodstock, 50 Years (© Burk Uzzle | OneShot)

Fifty years ago, Burk Uzzle, a celebrated photojournalist, drove with his wife and two kids to Bethel, New York. The 31-year-old was heading towards Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake to enjoy the much-anticipated Woodstock concert. Uzzle had been enjoying a successful career as a documentary photographer since the early 1960s. At the age of 23, he became the youngest photographer ever for LIFE magazine. In 1968, he spent his time in New York and Atlanta, photographing the funerals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. This time, however, he was not on a photography assignment: He wanted to have fun with his family and enjoy the music.

What was supposed to be an uncomplicated day trip turned into an odyssey as thousands of people — as the story goes — turned the New York Thruway into a 10-mile-long traffic jam, from August 15-18, 1969. "We were stuck at Woodstock," says Uzzle, who spoke by telephone from his home in North Carolina. Having brought enough film only for one day, and not being able to resist the urge to take photos, he asked other photographers covering the event to lend him some material. It was with one of these old borrowed films that he captured the iconic photo of what eventually became the most significant musical phenomenon American history: Woodstock.

A half-century later, Uzzle reflects back on his photograph and the tumultuous era in which it was taken. Following the Civil Rights movement and the antiwar protests, many believed in the heralding of better times. That is essentially what Woodstock was, or rather what everyone believed it to be: The conclusion to a thundering decade. At that moment, his photograph and the loving couple featured in it symbolized "what we all wanted America to become." That is, in Uzzle's words, a gentle and loving nation.

Photo: Burk Uzzle

"I was very surprised when the photograph became so iconic and I am still surprised," says Uzzle. "It still gets a great deal of attention." And it has become one of the most recognizable images in the history of photography.

The couple, Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, eventually went on to marry and have kids. In fact, Uzzle got a chance to see them again when a magazine sent him on an assignment to mark the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. "I went up to where they lived and I did a new portrait of them. I was delighted to see they still love each other very much," says Uzzle.​

Photo: Burk Uzzle

This message of peace and love, still very dear to Uzzle's heart, was very powerful in the U.S. and beyond. At the time, the world was on fire and you didn't need to look far to find people trying to change it: See Marc Riboud's photograph of Jan Rose Kasmir; Dennis Stock's photo of the Venice Beach Rock Festival; or Jean Pierre-Rey's La Marianne.

But Uzzle worries that things have not changed much since then and that, on the contrary, they have gotten worse: "We have a president and politicians trying to bleed us into hating each other. This is an evil, terrible situation."​

Uzzle's work — resilient, emblematic and impactful — continues to make waves. His current work from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he spends his days capturing the African-American experience is as invested as ever. And the history of his narrative, as he himself says, belongs to all of us.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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