Heavy Photo Mama
The Monterey International Pop Festival was just one chapter in photographer Lisa Law's chronicle of cultural change.
Thursday, June 14, 2001
By now, it''s axiomatic: If you can remember the ''60s, you weren''t there. Fortunately, somebody was taking pictures, and we can fill in the blanks with a little help from our friends.
One of these friends, Lisa Law, is coming to town, and I am polarized by conflicting emotions: pleasure at the prospect of reunion with a dear distant comrade and certain dread that she will remind me of past bad behaviors. I know she won''t hold back, either. A quintessential Earth mother and force of nature, this woman is the embodiment of Taj Mahal''s song, "Heavy, Hippy Mama." How she managed to keep her wits among the mindblown, shoot photos, bear and raise a brood of four bright children, and carry the weight into a new millennium is the true grit of modern female legend.
Law will celebrate 40 years of professional photography when she appears as storyteller and exhibitor in the Monterey Pop Revisited symposium. Her work is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian, and was shown at the Museum of American History in Washington D.C. She counts award-winning video ("Flashing On the Sixties"), and books (Interviews With Icons, Flashing On the Sixties) to her credit. A luminous visionary, her story is full of juicy intimate detail.
Six months pregnant with her first child, Lisa pitched a tipi at the original Monterey Pop Festival. She blessed the altar to Pachac Mama under a homemade "god''s eye," lit incense, arranged the meditation cushions, brewed herb tea. A newborn orphan pup named Icarus was slung around her waist in a scarf. "I spent most of that time feeding this little puppy with an eye dropper," she smiles. As alternative culture exploded to the liberated anthems of sex, drugs and rock ''n'' roll, her tipi became a haven of peace and relative sanity at ground zero.
It was the dawn of the Summer of Love, and the smell of patchouli oil, the tinkle of crystal chimes, the crackle of frying synapses magically return from the past as Lisa reminisces about the halcyon daze:
"I was sitting in the tipi next to Dennis Hopper, who had been given some LSD by Michael McClure," recalls Law. "He was really tripping out when the flap of the tipi opened up, and a breeze came in the tent going from left to right. That is how Navajos enter, I believe; Hopis go from right to left. Anyway, this breeze came in and went around the tipi and then out again. I felt that we had been visited by a spirit. I told this to Dennis Hopper only 10 years ago, and he said he had felt the same thing.
"Jimi Hendrix came in the tipi with a boom-box blasting, and I had to tell him to turn it down or he would bug the trippers. He was very sweet, and turned it right down."
The path of Lisa Law puts flesh on a Grateful Dead lyric: "What a long, strange trip it''s been." A graduate of Hollywood High, she bailed on Tinseltown before that was fashionable, and headed for higher ground. The trail led to Huautla, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Years ahead of trendy fascination over women who run with wolves, Lisa was hunkered down by the shaman''s fireside, initiated to alternate reality with the People of the Mushroom. A lifelong bond to indigenous cultures formed there in the smoke of organic psychedelic dream.
The best photographers of social change seem to have instincts that guide them not where the action is, but where it will be. Lisa was on scene in advance of seminal events in San Francisco, capturing Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg at the Human Be-In, and was shuttering the early raves sponsored by Bill Graham at the Fillmore, where a typical weekend lineup included the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Lisa Law watched it in her rear-view mirror as the seeds of Flower Power choked on weed, already far down the road, responding to the next phase of revolution: the back-to-the-land, communal movement. She saw Steve and Ina May Gaskin lead a bus caravan to The Farm in Tennessee, Ken Kesey going to ground in Oregon, and Wavy Gravy holing-up at The Hog Farm in New Mexico. Lisa settled near the latter, in the sacred Sangre de Cristo Mountains, first in Truchas, then Santa Fe.
There''s a lot more to the story: helping to manage the community kitchen at Woodstock, backstage at the top of pop music, kundalini practice with Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan, proactive support for Native American land rights, Mayan adventure in Guatemala, driving aid to El Salvador with Pastors for Peace. But we are talking about a pro photographer.
Let Lisa Law''s photographs speak for themselves. They''re worth thousands of words.
Lisa Law is one of the guest speakers and panelists for this weekend''s Monterey Pop Revisited symposium (see cover story and schedule, page 12). Her photographs will be exhibited at the Maritime Museum of Monterey through November.