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California Trip | Dennis Stock

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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].


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 31, 2013 at 6:21 pm

On Times Square

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A cynical curmudgeon, protege of Henri Cartier Bresson and chronicler of post-war Hollywood, Dennis Stock–who died last week in Florida–was more famous for the iconic photograph he posed for Andreas Feininger. Stock’s own most famous photograph is probably that of James Dean hunched on the Times Square, ‘bearing the weight of a generation on his shoulders,’ according to Adam Gopnik writing for The New Yorker. The Independent has this to say:

“Though Stock prosaically titled it On Times Square, it was renamed Boulevard of Broken Dreams* and adorned thousands of student walls from the 1950s onwards. The image of Dean trudging through Times Square in the rain, his body reflected in a puddle, shoulders hunched, cigarette dangling from lip has become an enduring image of the lonesome outsider.

“Stock met Dean in 1955, even before his first film, East of Eden, had been released. They got on so well that he was asked by Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause, to be Dean’s dialogue coach. Stock once explained the reason for Dean’s haggard good looks. “He wasn’t a drinker. He smoked a lot but everyone did in those days. What he was was an insomniac. He went to parties because he couldn’t sleep.”

*To be precise, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a lithograph by Gottfried Helnwein of “On Times Square”.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 25, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Society

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The Photojournalist

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New York City. 1951. It was the portrait of Magnum photographer Dennis Stock, although most of his face remained in shadow. It won its photographer Andreas Feininger ‘LIFE Young Photographers Contest’ in 1951. Stock holding a Leica SM camera vertically to face and looking through a seperate TEWE viewfinder (which balanced the photo for compositional reasons) symbolizes the transformation of photojournalists into mechanized insects.

Dennis Stock later took the most famous pictures of James Dean. The above photo came to be identified with photojournalism so much that LIFE magazine used it as the cover of their book, “What They Saw”.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 6, 2009 at 7:45 am

Posted in Culture, Society

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