California Trip | Dennis Stock


Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. From my stuffy desk, no past seems more foreign and different than the one lived by my parents and many of their compatriots: counter-culture of the 1960s, cobblestone-hurling revolts that rocked many Western democracies, hippies hitchhiking from Europe to India, across places like Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Alien lands indeed.

In 1968, Dennis Stock made an equally surreal journey. Stock, an esteemed photographer of jazz music scene, travelled across California at the height of hippie culture and free love. The resulting book, knowingly named California Trip, was “an ode to liberty”, and no photo encapsulated this zeitgeist more than the above photo taken at Venice Beach Rock Festival, which graced the cover of Reporters Without Borders’ 25th anniversary book.

In his contact sheets, you can see the spontaneity. When an unknown girl, her hands lilting and writhing, jumped in front of Stock’s lens, he took only four photos, but the moment’s lyrical energy and joie de vivre shine through the negatives. Stock remembers his trip: “I was attracted by the hippie movement, that was defined by two main principles: caring about others, and a taste for adventure. My pictures of hippies are about the search of a better life. I was drawn by what they tried to achieve. The hippy instinct was countercultural, it said ‘Let’s try to go back to basics’. Hippydom, in a sense, is a return of teenage rebellion, a new, stronger rebellion. Each one of us has a period of rebellion at a certain moment of their lives.”

In a later interview, he added: “Every idea that Western man explores in his pursuit of the best of all possible worlds will be searched at the head lab -California. Technological and spiritual quests vibrate throughout the state, intermingling, often creating the ethereal. It is from this freewheeling potpourri of search that the momentary ensembles in space spring, presenting to the photographer his surrealistic image. However, to the Californians it is all so ordinary, almost mundane. The sensibility of these conditioned victims is where it is all at, right, left, up and down. Our future is being determined in the lab out West. There, a recent trip blew my mind across this state of being, as I collected images along the way to remember the transient quality of the Big Trip.”

[Interviews are transcipted from the Independent].


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0 thoughts on “California Trip | Dennis Stock

  1. Are there any photos of hippies spitting on soldiers? Because that was part of the California Trip, too. The hippies seemed to have a welcoming committee for uniformed military in every bus station and airport that was quick to call you a baby killer. What I remember is the look of hate in their eyes, like feral dogs.

  2. What’s funny is that the philosophical offspring of that movement are today’s conservatives. I might be somewhere in any of those photos, and yet my friends from back then think that I’ve “changed.” It’s pointless to explain that we were anti-government then and that they’re pro-government today.

    1. That was my experience as well. By way of the anti-war sentiment the communists co-opted the hippy movement and turned it to socialism. Abby Hoffman was a communist agent who insinuated himself into the movement, He was a snake. Those of us who were really libertarians drifted off.

    1. “I was attracted by the hippie movement, that was defined by two main principles: caring about others, and a taste for adventure.”

      Which meant that some douchebag was trying to constantly dose you (by subterfuge) with the drug of the day (PCP, DMT, STP, LSD, etc. with all of the deadly poisons these homebrew drugs contained).

      That is truly caring about others. Has he grown up yet?

  3. Yawn…

    I’m sorry to have to say this but Although I agree with the writing and the spirit of what is bein said here, the photo is just plain blah. I just dont see that it shows, explains, feels or connects to anything at all. It is technically imperfect and lacks composition. Out of focus, it looks about the same as photos taken by a brownie star flash camera, not from an accomplished Photographer.

    Without all the explaining, nobody would know what era it is from at all or even if it is California or Jones Beach N.Y. Truly, it dosnt say anything without the Text to support it.

    Now, just so’s you dont think Im just blowin smoke, Here is (What I think is) a much better photo from the sixties:

    It looks, smells and tastes like California and expresses the wonton abandon much more clearly (and is a technically perfect photo in both resolution and composition). Likewise, the faces of both subjects are hidden from the viewer and so retains the “Mystery” element that so many artsy people like to see in their Photos…

    But my personal 60’s best shot is THIS ONE which says it all and covers the whole decade in all respects and with perfect aplomb:

    Your Obt. Svt,
    Col Korn,
    Chief o Mayhem, In the Great WW-2 (An tha Cold War)
    Currently Chief O Security an Sanitation,
    OXOjamm Studios.

    1. Actually when I first viewed the photo and the title of the essay I thought, Gee that photo could have been taken in the sixties. Actually this type of b&w photography was very popular in the sixties. Especially on both coast and college campuses throughout the country. But I do agree this photo is not one that I would have selected to depict the happenings of the late sixties.

    2. how would i know that was california in the first photo? by the trees? you bitch that the articles photo needs text, but so did yours.

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