LONDON.- This summer, Idea Generation Gallery invites you to take a trip
down Memory Lane, through Haight-Ashbury and across Golden Gate Park to turn on, tune in, drop out at the naked love-ins and anti-war sit-ins; at the psychedelic be-ins and the politicised happenings and meditate upon the spirit, body and soul of The Sixties - the first UK exhibition from Robert Altman, chief staff photographer of Rolling Stone, at Idea Generation Gallery (on view through 29th August.)
The exhibition brings together 60 of the most powerful images from Altmans extensive portfolio. As one of the lead Rolling Stone photographers in the magazines heyday of the late sixties and early seventies, Altmans exquisitely candid shots capture the luminaries of every sphere of influence from politics and music through to the everyday revolutionaries and children of free love and creates an extraordinary photographic journey through the historic moments of political; social and cultural revolution that have come to define The Sixties.
Altmans images provide the ultimate visual narrative to the era; when the contradictory forces & emotions of nascent hippy idealism and free love ran parallel to revolution, radicalism and civil unrest, all of it underscored by an unerring optimism, and a belief - born out of frustration at the status quo, the government and The Man - that change was both necessary and within their grasp.
Altman takes us on a journey through his Sixties - from the very epicentre of the scene as a Rolling Stone photographer - introducing us to the key players on the way. Whether getting us a front row seat at some of the best gigs (including many iconic Rolling Stone front covers); or rallying us to march alongside the protesters; or letting it all hang out with the flower children indulging in some free-love to boot, Altmans Sixties is the one we all wish we had lived through.
FREE LOVE - Flowers in their hair; wandering free in the Elysian fields of California the free love ideal of the 60s is one of the most resonant and revered legacies of the period. In a world often consumed with violence and anger, Flower Children or hippies put love and sex at the core of everything natural and harmonious. Altmans own portraits are a testament to the age of innocence, beauty and joy that hippies have come to represent.
THE POLITICS - If there was one thing the Sixties taught its children, it was that they had the power to change the world. And change it they did. As millions of people rose up in protest to fight for what they believed was right across the world, the spirit of revolution manifested itself in a very specific way in America. With their men fighting an unwanted war in Vietnam; and their own racial segregation; the young of the U.S. picked up on the revolu sweeping through the students and streets of Europe and ran with it in their own unique way.
From Jane Fonda at an anti-war rally; to the mass throngs staging be-ins, Altman captures the spirit of revolution as it surged through the country, showing these moments of anarchy and rebellion as they were passionate; dedicated; thunderous; and in so many cases, effective.
THE PEOPLE The infamous counter-culture that has come to define the Sixties in America wouldnt have existed without certain key people that were making it happen.
Jann Wenner, the founder and publisher of Rolling Stone pioneered journalism that tackled what was happening in the world head on; throwing aside diplomacy and reverence and giving voice to every concern, agitation and protest that its readers felt.
Dennis Hoppers performance in Easy Rider immortalised the drug culture that was taking place in film, whilst Ken Kesey was living it. Bobby Seale and Kathleen Cleaver fought for rights for African-Americans, while Cesar Chavez led the way for farm workers.
Altmans images are a catalogue of the influencers, opinion formers and icons of the Sixties, capturing them as they did their bit to shape the increasingly extraordinary world they were living in.
THE MUSIC - If the Sixties were about revolution and rebirth, there was no greater evidence of this than on the music scene.
The British invaded America; psychedelia reigned on the West Coast; Beat poets and avant-garde artists took to the stage at Andy Warhols Factory and The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan changed the face of popular music for good.
The Sixties contains landmark images many of which made the front cover of Rolling Stone - of some of musics biggest stars, including Mick Jagger; Joni Mitchell, Roger Daltrey, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner; Elton John and numerous others in performance; in conversation.
As artists realised their music could influence peoples hearts and minds, festivals such as Woodstock brought millions of people together in harmony while the chords of popular song responded to the discord in society. Music was the universal medium that transcended generation, class and creed and, as future generations would realise, time. Altmans selection of images capture the musical revolution in all its glory.
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, observes Altman. I absolutely knew that this was something different and something very special. 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.
"Having grown up in a what was by contrast a very grey, cold and damp Britain during the 70's & 80's, 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, comments Hector Proud, managing director of Idea Generation Gallery.
Roberts images, though, are very much a first person narrative. Of course, hes a sympathetic observer hes photographing his own but this is nevertheless a true portrayal of his age. The passion for what he was shooting is wonderfully clear, but theres more to it than that. Its almost as if hes 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.
It's said that The Sixties, and much of what it stood for, began to unravel at the Altamont gig in 69 - and that's probably not far from the truth. However, when you look at Robert's images, you realise that the spirit of the sixties will always be alive in these images. Hes captured so many aspects of the era so cleanly, that you practically feel you are there. And I think that's the greatest compliment that you can pay to him; he's ensured that the sixties and what it represented to him & his contemporaries, will endure for as long as we look at these pictures.