Installation View of "Woodstock Generation" August 8 - October 25, 2009

Dennis Stock

Woodstcok Generation

August 8 – October 25, 2009

Woodstock Generation chronicles a chapter in American history; a time when the quest for new social systems drove young hippies into the most remote regions of the United States, forging a new way of life in the form of communes.

Faced with the alienation they felt within a changing American culture and the conventions of their former generation, and filled with a utopian ideal and an anarchistic temperament, these young rebels created intentional communities on the fringes of society.

Dennis Stock spent the entire year of 1969 visiting alternative communities in Colorado, New Mexico, and California. These communities ranged from the hip to the political to the spiritual; from the transient camp to the large and self-sufficient rural community, many of which took on names as if they were cities: New Buffalo and Lorien in New Mexico and Wheeler’s Free and Drop City, California. Each commune was different: a collection of individuals living together with some shared passion or practical function such as music, art, environmental concerns, political concerns, sexual liberation, the practice of Eastern religions, draft resistance, or fear of the apocalypse.

The photographs of “Woodstock Generation” portray a simpler life, closer to the Earth: the members of one commune clear the dry soils of the desert highlands dressed in only loin cloths while a young woman in an urban community bakes bread barefoot, and on a commune elsewhere, young lovers ride a horse in the nude. Stock remarks, “All my hippy pictures are about a search for a better life. I had a predisposition toward what they were trying to accomplish”.

Though the hippies were negatively portrayed in the news media of the 1960s and 1970s and at times blamed for the deterioration of American society, the ideals of the hippy commune were quintessentially American: a pioneering outlook which fits into the country’s heritage dating back as far as the Pilgrims. Dennis Stock playfully demonstrates this neo-Americanism in his Portrait of Couple in Gothic Style, 1969, his reinterpretation of the iconic Grant Wood painting American Gothic.

Dennis Stock can be considered somewhat of a nomad, spending his life photographing a wide range of subjects from movie stars to musicians, bikers, and hippies. All of his subjects shared a non-conformist approach to life which interested and inspired him: “I like being on the road. The photography I like, and the worlds I like are based on discovery… The photographers I admire most are the curious ones.”

Born in New York City in 1928, Dennis Stock’s photography evokes the spirit of America. In 1947 he became an apprentice to Life magazine photographer Gjon Mili after he won first prize in Life’s “Young Photographers” contest. As a result, in 1951 Robert Capa invited Stock to join Magnum Photos, the most world renowned of photographic cooperatives whose mission is to chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities. Capa encouraged Stock to move to Hollywood to shoot production stills on movie sets. There he created some of his most iconic photos of celebrities including James Dean, with whom Stock formed a close friendship.

From 1957 to 1960 Stock made lively portraits of jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, Gene Krupa and Duke Ellington for his book Jazz Street. In 1968 Stock took a leave of absence from Magnum to create Visual Objectives, a film production company, and shot several documentaries. In the late 1960s and early 70s he documented the hippy movements of California and the American West and the subcultures of bikers, travelers, and motor-home owners along the country’s interstate highways. Today Stock concentrates on tulips: “Each of us needs to have a reverence for life. The object of our reverence should be life itself. In terms of photography, tulips are my perfect subjects.”

Dennis Stock has taught numerous workshops and exhibited his work widely in France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Japan.

He has worked as a writer, director and producer for television and film, and published numerous books of his work including: Portrait of a Young Man, James Dean, 1956; Jazz Street, 1960; The Happy Year, 1963; California Trip, 1970; The Alternative, 1970; Edge of Life, 1972; Brother Sun, 1974; The Circle of Season, 1974; America Seen, 1980; San Francesco d’Assisi, 1981; Provence Memories, 1988; Made in USA, 1995; James Dean: Per sempre giovane, 2005. His photographs have been acquired by many major museum collections including The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Dennis Stock resided in Woodstock, New York and Sarasota, Florida. He was married to the author Susan Richards. Dennis passed away on January 11, 2010. “Woodstock Generation” marked the last exhibition of his work that he worked on during his life time.