© Robert Altman
Exhibition preview - The Sixties: Photographs by Robert Altman, at the Idea Generation Gallery until August 29 2008. 11 Chance Street, London E2, 020 7749 6851. Admission: Free.
This summer London’s Idea Generation Gallery is taking a trip down memory lane with an exhibition that promises to transport you back to the heyday of the hippy movement.
The Sixties - the first UK exhibition from Robert Altman, chief staff photographer of Rolling Stone in the late sixties and early seventies, is showing at Idea Generation Gallery until August 29 2008.
Free the Presidio 27 Demonstration, San Francisco, CA, March 1969. © Robert Altman
Visitors will be able to feast their eyes on an array of naked love-ins, anti-war sit-ins, psychedelic be-ins and politicised happenings whilst meditating upon the spirit, body and soul of the hippy generation.
For those who were the embodiment of Paul Krassner of the Jefferson Airplane’s maxim: “if you remember the 'sixties you weren’t there,” these surprisingly vivid pictures will offer a timely reminder. For the rest of us they are a fascinating glimpse into an era that genuinely tried to turn on, tune in and drop out.
“For me, the 'sixties is the time of Sgt Pepper, Woodstock, the Summer of Love, be-ins, anti-war protests, and everything else in between,” comments Altman. “Part of the magic of the 'sixties was that we knew there were thousands and thousands, perhaps millions of us, spread beyond the United States and all across the world,”
Dance! Hippie Hill, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA, 1967. © Robert Altman
“I absolutely knew that this was something different and something very special," he adds. "Those days were unlike any our generation had even heard of before, much less experienced. You might say we lit the fuse to the roaring twentieth century.”
The exhibition brings together 60 of the most powerful images from Altman’s extensive portfolio. As one of the lead Rolling Stone photographers in the magazine’s heyday, his candid shots capture the luminaries of every sphere of influence – from politics and music through to the everyday revolutionaries and children of free love.
It makes for an entertaining photographic journey through the historic moments of political, social and cultural revolution that have come to define ‘The Sixties’.
Anti-War Moratorium, 1969. © Robert Altman
There are anti-war demos, hippies dancing at Golden Gate Park, flower children cavorting naked and photographs of the key movers and shakers of the period including Dennis Hopper, Ken Kesey, Bobby Seale and Carlos Santana.
The ultimate visual narrative to an era when the contradictory forces and emotions of nascent hippy idealism and free love ran parallel to revolution, radicalism and civil unrest, Altman’s photos are underscored by an unerring optimism, and a belief - born out of frustration at the status quo - that the government, and The Man, was due for change.
For the hippy movement change was both necessary and within their grasp – and Altman takes us on a journey through his 'sixties.
© Robert Altman
"Having grown up in a what was, by contrast, a very grey, cold and damp Britain during the seventies and eighties, the idea of late sixties California has always had an almost mythical, dreamy quality – driven, no doubt by the power of Hollywood on an impressionable young mind,” says Hector Proud, managing director of Idea Generation Gallery.
“Robert’s images, though, are very much a first person narrative. Of course, he’s a sympathetic observer – he’s photographing his own – but this is nevertheless a true portrayal of his age.”
“The passion for what he was shooting is wonderfully clear, but there’s more to it than that. It’s almost as if he’s distilled the essence of the era – you get a real sense of the drama, excitement, hope, anger, idealism of the time. It makes for some iconic images.”
Whether getting us a front row seat at some of the best gigs (including many iconic Rolling Stone front covers), rallying us to march alongside the protesters or letting it all hang out with the flower children indulging in some free-love, Altman’s Sixties is the one we all wish we had lived through.