Photo: Elaine Mayes, Janis at the Fillmore 1967, vintage gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches.
In the summer of 1967, some 100,000 people descended upon the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to come together as one. Inspired by the Beat Generation of the 1950s who had taken to North Beach, a new wave of nonconformists embraced the counterculture vibes of the times, embracing the ethos of the hippie movement, first espoused by Timothy Leary earlier that year at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park with the words, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
The Summer of Love, as it came to be known, as a natural extension of the Human Be-In, which embraced the principle of “sex, drug, and rock and roll.” In the face of violence and destruction that raged overseas in the Vietnam War and here at home with the Civil Rights Movement, the hippies sought to take a stand against the system through the message of peace and love.
High school and college students left their weary corners of the country and headed west to join in a movement fueled by ideals, faith, and illusions. As the scene grew, Haight-Ashbury residents created the Council of the Summer of Love, giving the movement its name. At the same time, events like the Monterey Pop Festival literally fanned the flames, as Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire and revealed the power each person holds to break free from the confines of respectability politics.
Photographer Elaine Mayes (b. 1936) was shooting in Haight-Ashbury during that pivotal year, capturing the spirit of youth culture when it was at its more fresh and innocent. Her photographs will be on view in Summer of Love from June 10 through August 26, 2017, at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California.
The vintage silver gelatin prints take us back to the height of the movement, when possibility was still fresh and dreams were believed to come true, despite evidence to the contrary. Janis, Jimi, and Jim were still alive and going strong, seemingly indestructible despite the propensities for self-abuse.
The same could be said of thousands of youth who truly lived in the moment, unable to portend the consequences or see into the future. Just imagine if they could have known how their generation would sell out and become the very Man they were rebelling against. It’s hard to imagine what they would have done if they could see Haight-Ashbury today, the very embodiment of the capitalist power structure that they sought to escape.
In looking back at Mayes’s photographs, we can see the beauty of youth is in being a true believer—for as long as it lasts. Some died young, unable to bare the burdens of life, while others simply gave up and become the thing they once claimed to despise. But the beauty of photography is the way it preserves our dreams and ideals.
All photos: © Elaine Mayes, courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.