Friday, April 20, 2007
Elaine Mayes: From hippies to hawaii
"Haight Ashbury, Commune Group, 1968" by Elaine Mayes
A few years ago at a photo conference Elaine Mayes showed a series of black and white portraits made during the “summer of love” in Haight Ashbury. That famous summer, 1967, I was 20 years old. I hadn’t yet made it to San Francisco, but I was a fervent member of the counterculture. I dropped in & out of school, did various low-paying jobs, wandered around, listened to a lot of music, got high as often as I could. I called myself a hippy. My hair and beard were wild. I wore cast off clothes. I believed our country needed a revolution to make us all free.
More than three decades later, Mayes’s slides showed me what I had seen but in some way not registered back then. Her pictures are skillfully direct -- unpretentious, accurate. For me they were a kind of reseeing -- only lucid this time, not stoned or lonely or in a hurry to get somewhere else. It was like suddenly having memories I didn’t know existed.
The 60s aren’t chic in these pictures. The hairstyles aren’t like the coiffed manes of the musical Hair or all the movies that would come later. The clothes -- mostly picked up on the street or in thrift stores -- often show imagination but haven’t yet become a marketable style. Everyone is so young. Only a few of the faces show the drugs & disillusion that would overtake the scene in just a few years. They are earnest childlike faces -- sweetly idealistic. The only ones that seem rooted in the here-and-now are the young mothers and their babies, for whom Mayes clearly had a special feeling.
"Haight Ashbury, Kathleen and Damian, 1968" by Elaine Mayes
I wouldn’t have thought so before, but these portraits convinced me the 60s are best pictured in black and white.
After the slide show, I told Mayes how much I liked her work. Later she was kind enough to critique a portfolio I had brought to the conference. A longtime teacher at NYU, she was surprisingly soft-spoken, essentially modest. But it was one of the only critiques that ever made me change the way I work.
"Pau Hana Inn Parking Lot with Reflection in Water, Moloka’i, 1990" by Elaine Mayes
I’m writing this post because I happened upon some of her large-scale color landscapes of Hawaii at the recent AIPAD show in New York. They combine the clear-eyed observation of her earlier work with a surrender to the gorgeousness of island light & color.
It's a pleasure to make her acquaitance again.