Lisa Law and her camera, Dennis Hopper once said, caught “everyone” in the Sixties from the Beatles, Dylan and the Byrds to the Velvet Underground, Kesey, Krassner and the Dead. She was also “everywhere” in that time, from the Sunset Strip to Monterey Pop, the Human Be-In and Woodstock. Since that time, Lisa has continued her photographic work but has also made documentary films and been a tireless environmental and antiwar activist and lecturer. She senses a renewed Sixties spirit with today’s young climate change and anti-gun activists. Benito Vila caught up with Lisa for PKM.
“I knew Lisa Law four years before I did “Easy Rider”. She had access to all of the Sixties: the alternative lifestyles, the hippies communes, the religious leaders, what we ate, what we drank, what music we listened to; she was there. Every time I turned around she was there with her camera.” –– Dennis Hopper in the trailer for Lisa Law’s 1994 documentary Flashing On The Sixties: A Tribal Document.
The phrase “flashing on the Sixties” brings to mind psychedelia, flower children, LSD, Haight-Ashbury, Vietnam, Woodstock and peace signs. It also brings to mind a money-making machine hell-bent on selling protest to those eager to escape the mind-numbing conformity of the post-war 1950s. For many who were there, that is exactly what’s happened to “The Summer of Love”: youth culture, alternative thought and defiant expression ended up ridiculed, minimized and packaged under an umbrella of groovy, rainbow-splattered, make-love-not-war commercialism.
“The Sixties were a liberation– of freedom– a liberation to do what you felt like doing. You believed in yourself– and you acted on it.”
Whether she intended the double-meaning or not, Law’s film reveals a moment in time when American kids––many of them in their late 70s and early 80s now––sought to challenge the normalcy of stock market metrics, military protocols, run-amok pollution and endless consumption they had grown up with in the 1950s. The film also gives voice to Sixties’ luminaries such as Peter Fonda, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Wavy Gravy, Peter Coyote, Tony Price, Mountain Girl and Hopper, who give their perspectives on what they felt the Sixties were all about––twenty-some years after Woodstock.
The film came out of Law’s photographic work that put her on the scene, camera in hand, in 1965 Beatles-infused, folkie San Francisco and in 1966 hip, gone-electric Los Angeles. She later chronicled––and was an active participant––in the Haight-Ashbury Human Be-In and Monterey Pop in 1967 and in Woodstock in 1969, before becoming a pioneer of the environmental movement.
Like Hopper suggests, her camera caught “everyone” in music––from The Kingston Trio; The Beatles; Peter, Paul & Mary; Tiny Tim; The Byrds; Bob Dylan; Lou Reed, Nico and The Velvet Underground to The Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Big Brother and the Holding Company; The Lovin’ Spoonful; Otis Redding and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Law also came to know and photograph Coretta Scott King, Cher, Harrison Ford, Paul Krassner, Ken Kesey, Yogi Bhajan, Albert Grossman and Pigasus [Editor’s note: the 1968 Yippee presidential candidate].
Her photographs can be seen in an online Smithsonian gallery entitled “A Visual Journey”, a 208-image retrospective that cautions, “Adults may wish to speak with children about the Sixties to help them better understand that era within its own cultural context.” As muddled-up as that sounds, there’s clarity to the images presented there and each Law photograph is captioned with detailed historical notes. Law’s work is also available on her website––flashingonthesixties.com––and in an out-of-print 144-page coffee-table book by the same name. That 1987 book preceded the film by seven years, with the film coming about when a fan of the book, John Paul DeJoria of Paul Mitchell hair products, funded its production. As Law explains it, “Because of John Paul, that really pushed my career forward. I was able to direct the movie, produce it and help edit it. I also did Interviews with Icons [in 2000] and with the two books and the movie, I’m able to go to universities, do lectures and do showings of the movie.”
In Interviews with Icons, Law talks to 28 people, most whom are in the coffee table book and in the film, about their Sixties experiences. That book proved to be the jumping off point for our conversation, with Law going on to describe her history and her place in a counterculture whirlwind that is still making itself felt.
PKM: I’m enjoying reading your Interviews with Icons.
Lisa Law: Have you read the whole thing?
PKM: I finished Peter Coyote, Ram Dass and Timothy Leary last night. I’m hoping to start on Paul Krassner tonight. A lot of it seems to be transcriptions from your film interviews.
Lisa Law: Most of it is. Who was your favorite character in the movie?
PKM: One character? In the whole film? I’m not sure. I liked the people you captured behind the scenes being themselves. Who is yours?
Lisa Law: My favorite character is the Vietnam vet [Craig Preston].
PKM: How did you come across him?
Lisa Law: I was on Haight Street searching out things I was going to shoot. This guy was bragging about his Vietnam days and living in the park and all that stuff. He was very vocal and I said, “I’d like to tape you for this movie I’m doing. Can you meet me in two weeks in the park at this time so I can interview you?” He said, “Okay,” When I got to the park two weeks later with my entire crew, somebody else was there. Craig was there, and he says that the other guy––Frank––chickened out, that he didn’t want to do it.
So we sat Craig down, and he started telling his story. My camera crew kept turning off the camera, and I said, “I didn’t say, ‘Cut’; we have plenty of videotape, just keep rolling.” That’s when I got all that great stuff from him.
PKM: What struck you about him as a character?
Lisa Law: Well, how honest he was and how sad he was that he couldn’t get a job; he couldn’t keep a wife; he couldn’t keep a place and how Vietnam destroyed him. Vietnam was the main purpose of Woodstock. Everything there was about Vietnam––that was years ago so people don’t remember that now. But they remember it when they see Craig talking about it and when they see the footage I got that shows it.
“Vietnam was the main purpose of Woodstock. Everything there was about Vietnam– that was years ago so people don’t remember that now.”
PKM: I want to ask you a little bit about your craft, and then a little bit about your own history. Then I want to ask you to look forward, because there are a lot of parallels between what was happening throughout the Sixties and what’s happening now––especially in politics and with Greta [Thunberg], the Climate Strike and all the environmental things in the news.
Lisa Law: Okay, let’s get going.
PKM: All right. How do you describe what cameras do?
Lisa Law: They capture the real moments so that other people can see what was happening––without pictures, without movies, without videos, without documentation, you really don’t know what it looked like or how it felt. Without a camera, you only have words. The camera really helps people to share those moments with other people.
PKM: What have you been trying to capture all these years?
Lisa Law: Everything that I experience.
PKM: What seems to capture your attention?
Lisa Law: The things that are very emotional: the marches in the streets against the war in Vietnam, people and their babies. I took aid to El Salvador and we did a documentary. The U.S. got out of El Salvador a year later after we took that movie to Congress.
PKM: What was the name of the movie?
Lisa Law: It was a documentary for Pastors for Peace––it was done in 1999. We gave it to Congress and they pulled out of El Salvador after they saw what was really happening. I document things around me that I find interesting, picturesque, emotional.
PKM: How do you describe the effect your work has?
Lisa Law: A lot of people can relate to my pictures. When my book, Flashing on the Sixties, came out, people called me or wrote me, and told me that it was a very healing document because they were told that they were just “dirty old hippies”. My book shows that what we did––and what we started––is still being carried on today, that we were not just dirty old hippies, that it wasn’t just drug, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. One of the people who called me said, “You have a good outlook on what we were doing, whereas other people try to make it ugly.”
PKM: If you could put a message on your camera––a this-machine-kills-fascists-like sticker on your camera, the way Woody Guthrie had one on his guitar––what would it say?
Lisa Law: Hmmm. [Pause] What would it say?
PKM: We can come back to that.
Lisa Law: Okay.
PKM: Have you always used the same sort of camera?
Lisa Law: No. I’ve changed cameras many times. I started out with the Brownie and then I got a Honeywell Pentax––Frank Werber gave that to me––then I got a Nikon-F; then I got more Pentaxes. When everything started going to digital, I went to Canons.
PKM: Is that what you typically use now?
Lisa Law: No. What I use right now, if I shoot with a camera, is an Olympus 10. That’s a digital camera and it’s pretty wonderful, but I haven’t shot with that very much. I shoot with my iPhone––I have an iPhone X.
PKM: That’s funny. That leads right into to my next question: Everyone has a phone with a camera. What is something that anyone or everyone can do with their phones that can make a change in society?
Lisa Law: You have to take a picture and share it. It’s not going to change anything unless you share it. I shot the Climate Strike here a couple of weeks ago––it was a protest of all ages that marched downtown from the Capitol to the Petroleum Association. There were pictures on the front page of the paper––lots of young people marching around with all sorts of signs, all sorts of costumes.
I use social media for everything that I do. I use all of what’s available on social media and I’m able to share my work much faster than before. Right now I have work in a museum in Mexico and there’s been a major flood there––half the town is under mud–– and I’ve been going on and finding people’s postings and sharing them so I can let people know what’s happening in the village and at the museum.
PKM: Where is this in Mexico?
Lisa Law: Yelapa, south of Puerto Vallarta. The people there are cleaning up the museum and the rest of the mess. I feel really good when I’m able to share what’s going on. That’s what I’ve always done, and because of it I’ve become recognized as a historian and a filmmaker––as well as a photographer, author, activist, director, designer, mother and grandmother.
PKM: How did you start taking pictures?
Lisa Law: My father gave me a camera when I was six, a little Brownie, because he shot 16-millimeter. He was a documentarian, too. He documented his fishing trips to Guaymas [northwestern Mexico]; he documented his boar hunting on another trip to Mexico; he documented the union demonstrations at Warner Brothers where the firemen hosed down all the people who were threatening to strike. [That October 5, 1945 event is known as “Bloody Friday”]
When kids watch their parents do a thing, they follow suit. Most of my kids are photographers. My grandson is now a filmmaker with drones; my daughter has a gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe and she’s a photographer, too. My kids have followed in my footsteps.
PKM: How did The Castle [an architecturally distinctive house in Los Angeles] come about?
Lisa Law: I was working for Frank Werber of The Kingston Trio––he’d hired me to be his personal assistant––and I went with him one day to a Peter, Paul & Mary concert in Berkeley. It was a concert I shot, by the way; they have a new book out and they used my pictures. Anyway, we went backstage and I ran into their road manager, Tom Law. He was working for Albert Grossman, who was the manager of Peter, Paul & Mary, Dylan, and then, later, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, John Lee Hooker and lots of other people.
I fell in love with Tom immediately. I gave him a ride home to his hotel in the city. He came to stay with me, then he ended up back in Los Angeles, quit his job with Peter, Paul & Mary, and went to work for Mike Nichols, who was directing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; Tom was Nichols’ assistant. Tom’s brother was an actor, John Phillip Law––he’s the blind angel in Jane Fonda’s Barbarella and the Russian guy in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. He’s in a lot of B movies––he was extremely handsome––he would buy houses and fix them up, with this other guy, Jack Simmons. He bought The Castle and Tom moved into it.
I went down to LA to take care of my grandmother, and Tom took me over to The Castle and he says, “What do you think?” I was like, “This is great!” Then, he says, “Why don’t you come down and live with me here?” I said, “Well, I’m not going to just come down and live with you, but I’ll be your old lady if you want me to come down. I have to be your old lady, I can’t be just some girl.” That’s basically how he proposed to me, “You can be my old lady.” [Laughs]
PKM: Did The Castle have a history before you and Tom got in there?
Lisa Law: I don’t know who the original owner was, but it was pretty old and it’s right at the base of the Frank Lloyd Wright castle. When we got it, John had bought it for $100,000. It just sold for $8.3 million. After us, a woman bought it and did a lot to it: she put a lot of furniture in it; the old ceiling was gold leaf and it was peeling, so she painted it; she painted the sandstone walls in the ballroom and wrecked that, too. The next guy was Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He put a giant Buddha in the living room––the dance room––a big giant living room with giant ceilings and giant windows. He fixed the gardens, too. I asked Flea why he’d sold it and he said, “Because a guy made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
They (The Velvet Underground) did a show at The Trip and I photographed that show. Those pictures are in every single book there is of The Velvet Underground. Nobody had ever shot them on stage like that.
That guy was John Getty, a nephew of John Paul Getty. He was a real wild kind of guy––a drug problem, an alcohol problem––but he remodeled it and re-did the gold leaf ceilings. He sandblasted the walls and got the paint off of them, so it’s back to the sandstone. He added an extra room to make it look like other rooms. John Getty’s parents made him sell it because he was putting a lot of money into it. He had offers from various people, and finally sold it to the girlfriend of a famous sculpture artist, who bought it for him. Now, they’re fixing it up even more. They had me over to dinner and we talked about everything. I showed them my pictures.
PKM: You took a lot of pictures there and it looks like you had a lot of guests.
Lisa Law: We rented out rooms. Bob Dylan rented a room to write some songs. He was a friend of Tom’s because of Tom working for Albert Grossman. While he was there, I was his cook and masseuse; he only stayed for two weeks. This was just about the time that he was going to marry Sara. [Sings the closing lines of Sara]. He married Sara right afterwards.
PKM: What Dylan music came out of The Castle?
Lisa Law: I don’t know. The song that was in his typewriter wasn’t in focus enough to read the words on the paper. We did go to the Otis Redding concert together at the Whisky a Go Go. That’s when I shot the picture of Otis Redding that Atlantic Records used as an album cover [Dock of the Bay, a posthumous 1968 release].
I shot Tim Hardin’s album cover in the garden of The Castle [Tim Hardin 1]. We had Barry McGuire living there on the first floor, too––he’s the Eve of Destruction. After Dylan left, The Velvet Underground rented rooms and Andy Warhol used to come over, to hang out with the Velvets.
PKM: What do you remember of that stay?
Lisa Law: They did a show at The Trip and I photographed that show. Those pictures are in every single book there is of The Velvet Underground. Nobody had ever shot them on stage like that.
PKM: How did you end up in San Francisco?
Lisa Law: I grew up in Burbank. My mother was a lawyer; my father was a furrier, besides being a documentary photographer. At the age of 15, I moved to stay with my aunt [Elaine Mikels] in San Francisco. She started a halfway house for ex-mental patients––so after they came out of the hospital, they’d go into her place and she’d help them get jobs. That place is called Conard House; it’s still going today, 60 years later. I lived there and I went to Galileo High School, close to North Beach. I’d go hang out in North Beach and became a beatnik.
We rented out rooms. Bob Dylan rented a room to write some songs. He was a friend of Tom’s because of Tom working for Albert Grossman. While he was there, I was his cook and masseuse; he only stayed for two weeks.
I got a lot of education by being a beatnik and by being at Gate 5 in Sausalito [an artist colony/marina]. I eventually moved to Sausalito in 1961 when I was 18 and I got a job a crewmember on a gaff-rigged schooner that was set to sail around the world for 10 years. One of our stops after LA was Puerto Vallarta but the water was too rough there, so we docked in Yelapa. I took three pictures of the front of Yelapa, which we later put together digitally and now that picture is painted on the front wall of Yelapa to show people what Yelapa used to look like. That’s how I started to document Yelapa and that’s why I’m in the museum there now.
I only got as far as Acapulco on that boat, but I ended up falling love with Mexico. I went back to San Francisco, went to college in Marin, got the job with Frank Werber, fell in love with Tom and went back to LA. Tom and I left The Castle in 1966 to go live in Yelapa forever. We packed up everything, moved and we were down there a month or two when I got sick on the water––I got hepatitis. Right after that, somebody came through and said, “Let’s go take the mushrooms of Mazatecan Indians”, and Tom says, “Let’s go take the mushrooms with the Mazatecan Indians!” I said, “I thought we were building a house!” Anyway, we went there by bus and three days later, after he took the mushrooms, he left.
PKM: Tom left!?
Lisa Law: He left. He left me with a gay poet who was our friend. I lived there with the Mazatecan Indian ladies and sat on the plaza selling fruit with them for a month. I got better. Tom ended up getting hepatitis in LA, and almost died in the hospital, so I came back to take care of him. We moved to Marin––my stepfather called after taking some acid and said, “Come back here!” That’s when Haight-Ashbury was happening.
It was fortuitous: I could have been in Yelapa forever, but instead, I came back and documented the Human Be-In, The Fantasy Fair, Haight-Ashbury, Allen Ginsberg––all that kind of stuff. Then we left for Monterey Pop. We set up our teepee there. I made a teepee and we were living in it. We had a yellow VW bus and we traveled around with the teepee poles and the teepee on the top. Wherever we set up our teepee, that’s where we’d live. I got pregnant during that stay in Marin. That’s when I was shooting Janis Joplin. We came to New Mexico to have our baby because it was the only place that had natural childbirth. The Hog Farm and Wavy Gravy––those guys followed us out, and we had a summer solstice celebration in ’68. They bought some land. And then ’69, we did another summer solstice celebration, and that’s when Stan Goldstein came out and said, “Can you guys come help us with this concert in Bethel––the Woodstock Concert?” Then, we were flown in a big huge American Airlines jumbo jet to JFK, where they picked us up and took us to Bethel. We set up camp there. We did the medical tents, the trip tents, the food tents. You saw that in the movie?
Lisa Law: I was in charge of buying all the food. After we got that going and the volunteers were serving it, I went out and shot that footage. When we came back, we farmed for eight years in Truchas and had three more children up there: natural childbirth, breastfeeding––I was an advocate of La Leche. I was a member and helped a lot of women with their nursing issues. Then after eight years, I left. I left Tom there.
I moved down to Santa Fe and put my kids in school. My mother helped me buy a house and I raised my kids there. Then I bought some land in Embudo and built a house and did my farming there––I raised my own vegetables. I still kept going down to Yelapa and I start building houses in Yelapa––five apartments for a big hotel and a couple of houses. I became an architect-builder and started designing, too. My kitchen is well known now in Yelapa––a lot of people have my kitchen––because the way men built kitchens back in the old days they barely gave anyone room to do anything––and the kitchens were stuck in the back. I stuck the kitchen in the front, so they had a view of the ocean so there’s plenty of room to cut vegetables and store things. Then I started decorating for people––all because I built five rooms of this one hotel––helping people design their curtains, couches, hangings, beds, everything so that they could get more customers. Basically, I still do that.
PKM: One of the questions you ask in Interviews with Icons is: The Sixties were… You asked Allen Ginsberg, “The Sixties were…” You asked Peter Coyote, Hugh Romney/Wavy Gravy, Ram Dass and Timothy Leary the same thing.
Lisa Law: I asked that question of everybody.
PKM: How would you answer that? The Sixties were… How do you finish the sentence?
Lisa Law: Liberation. The Sixties were a liberation––of freedom––a liberation to do what you felt like doing. You believed in yourself– and you acted on it. Everything we wanted to do––like helping with the trip tents, stuff like that––we had the freedom to do. You can’t do that anymore. It’s too expensive now. Before, because things didn’t cost that much, we were able to move around and express ourselves. That’s what people like about that time now––that freedom, that liberation.
Look at all the people that go to Woodstock today. That’s the attraction of the Woodstock generation. The Sixties created the Woodstock generation––the Woodstock generation is when you take care of other people––you help other people, you’re peaceful, you’re supportive. At Woodstock, we took care of everybody: there was no fighting; there were no knifings; there were no rapes. You had 400,000 people getting along with each other. The Sixties allowed that to happen.
PKM: Isn’t that sort of liberation something people still want? Isn’t the focus on the environment coming around again, like in the beginning of the 1960s? A lot of the kids who are 17, 18, 19 years old now probably don’t know who Rachel Carson is, but they’re saying the same things she did. Isn’t that what we’re seeing with Greta Thunberg?
Lisa Law: Greta is able to tell the truth instead of lies. Everything she talks about is about the lies that are going on. People ask Greta what it is about her and she says, “I tell the truth about what’s really happening.” Because of that, all the young kids are now following in her footsteps because she’s an example of speaking the truth and acting upon it. We are having a global disaster. Look what’s happening with the weather, the oil drilling. If we don’t take care of the Earth, we’re not going to have it. Ram Dass was the spiritual voice of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. Greta’s the ecological voice now: she’s saying if we don’t take care of our earth, we are not going to have it. The Earth will be okay, but we won’t be around.
PKM: What do you think it takes to create socio-economic-political change?
Lisa Law: In other countries, like Costa Rica, they just get out on the streets. All of them––everyone gets out. They did that there and got rid of their president––they dumped him. We’re not strong enough. There’s something wrong with our country: we can’t get rid of Trump. The people should have been able to march out in the streets and gotten rid of Trump. They didn’t. We don’t have that ability here. It’s because we’re too complacent. The young people are starting to recognize they’re not going to have an earth that functions for them if they don’t do something. That is what Greta represents: she’s a leader; she’s an example; she gets out there. Every time she opens her mouth, it’s on Facebook and she always has good answers.
People ask Greta what it is about her and she says, “I tell the truth about what’s really happening.” Because of that, all the young kids are now following in her footsteps because she’s an example of speaking the truth and acting upon it. We are having a global disaster.
Those things are being noticed now and the young people are making a difference today, like we did back then. Like the issue with the guns––they’ve had enough. They want to change those laws. Those kids are speaking up. Greta’s better than we were because it’s not drugs, sex and rock and roll anymore. It’s the environment; it’s what you put in your body; it’s what car you drive. I drive a Ford C-Max, which is half electric, half gas. What I talk about, I do. Everybody should be driving an electric car. America did electric cars at one point, and they were all picked up, smushed, crashed, and got rid of because money-makers wanted to make the money off their gas tanks. We’re a very greedy country. Look at Japan: Japan is building big, giant buildings with gardens and solar. They run the entire apartment complexes with solar. They have trains and streets that are solar. We’re real slow because we’re greedy and selfish.
We also have a bunch of stupid people here in the United States…There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who would vote for Trump even though he molests women, he hates women, is bad to women and hates the environment. He’s destroying everything and people still honor him, even women. I don’t know how during my lifetime that we’re going to be able to change anything because there are so many idiots out there….
PKM: I think it has to be a matter of life and death.
Lisa Law: We need to see blood. People are just stuck in their old ways. Until they see the advantage of the new way––until people see the benefit of a new way––they’re not going to change. That happened here with our Congressman Ben Ray Luján, who’s running for the Senate now. People came through from Mexico saying, “You’ve got to legalize marijuana because of the amount of killing that’s going on in the border––the people that sell the marijuana are killing off our kids. You have to legalize it to stop the killing.” When that caravan came through New Mexico, all these women who’d lost their children had a talk here with Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Afterwards I walked Luján to his car and I said, “Now do you see why it’s important to legalize marijuana? It’s not to get everybody high––it’s to stop the killing.” He says, “No, you haven’t persuaded me.” I just threw my hands up.
It was fortuitous: I could have been in Yelapa forever, but instead, I came back and documented the Human Be-In, The Fantasy Fair, Haight-Ashbury, Allen Ginsberg––all that kind of stuff. Then we left for Monterey Pop.
A year later, he came to me and he says, “Lisa, I’m on your side now. I will push to legalize marijuana.” I asked, “Well, what happened?” He said, “I spoke to governor of Colorado.” I asked, “And did he tell you how much money he made?” Luján said, “No, it wasn’t that. He told me the real reason why we should legalize it; it was just like you told me.” Now Luján understands it, but look how long it took him to get it…
Amsterdam figured it out a long time ago. They got it. Canada figured it out––they grow their marijuana up there. There are other countries, too––like Israel, it’s legal there. We’re so slow to figure it out because the people in charge are stupid. They need to be voted out. We need younger people to be elected who know what’s going on. We’ve got to get rid of these old folks. If you look at the news every day, there are these old folks up there trying to get us to stay the way it was. If we don’t elect younger people, we’ll be going on for years and years with the same thing.
PKM: As a kid, I heard, “Never trust anyone over 30” and it seems like those same people are still in charge. What motivates you the most?
Lisa Law: When people move in the right direction. That’s what motivates me.
PKM: How do you know it’s the right direction?
Lisa Law: When it makes sense for everybody and not just a few. For instance, I sat with Bill Richardson when he was running for governor [of New Mexico in 2002]. I asked him “Why are you going for 10-15% solar? You need to go for 50% solar right away. I’m off the grid at my house up in Embudo. You’ve got to help the state become solar.” He said, “Well, okay, 20%.” After Obama was elected, he came out saying, “We’re going to go for 50%.” What took him so long? Basically, people are really slow in understanding what it’s going to take to make our environment cleaner. We’ve been saying Monsanto is bad for a long, long time now. Other countries are getting their stuff out of their stores––meanwhile Roundup is still being sold in Walmart and Home Depot. Why? Why do people have to die from this stuff before we do anything?
PKM: Who has what it takes to make our economic and political structures sustainable?
Lisa Law: The young kids understand it. They see what’s happening to our bees, to our birds––they’re educating themselves. They know they need to get what’s important across to the people in power. More and more, I see young people marching––and protesters of all ages coming to join them. It’s going to take stuff like that––the young people getting out in the streets, talking about what they know. They know we need to take care of our environment; that we need to honor the animals and the bugs and the insects and the wild animals; that we’ve got to plant trees like other countries are doing…
PKM: ‘We need to see blood’. Is that the sticker that goes on your camera?
Lisa Law: [Pause] This camera captures the truth.
PKM: One last question: looking back to the Beat era and the early Sixties, who that you hung around with and photographed made the most lasting impression on you? What was it about your experience of them that stays with you?
Lisa Law: Ram Dass, because of what he had to say then and because of what he was doing about his own consciousness, his own karma and his own relationship to other people. He considered himself a voice for other people to hear––and he was very clear where other people couldn’t be. He went around the country giving talks and a lot of people who were having trouble relating to the world listened to his talks and came away feeling a lot better. He still does that today, and he puts out book after book––now there are movies about him. It’s amazing he’s still alive after what he’s been through with his stroke [in 1997]. He’s like a guru for our generation, except he doesn’t consider himself a guru. He just considers himself a voice. [Ram Dass is the author of 1971’s Be Here Now. Prior to 1967, he was known as Harvard psychology professor Dr. Richard Alpert. He also wrote the introduction to Lisa Law’s Flashing On The Sixties.]
Flower Children & Punks
In his Interviews with Icons conversation with Law, Peter Coyote succinctly describes corporate America turning localized, somewhat radical, creative movements into marketable fodder––behavior that draws billion-dollar sales from un-conforming, fringe-element trends such as hippies and punks. Coyote also manages to connect the two movements and, like Law, he expresses his faith in youth, in “kids”, pointing out they’re the only ones who can stay ahead of the selling machine:
“You walk down Haight Street today  and you see a lot of punks in the street, and I have a lot of affinity for those kids because the Diggers were a lot closer to punks than we were to Flower Children. Flower Children was a kind of ram-a-lama mythology that the media used to spread as a way of creating a philosophy for people. [The Sixties] movement was essentially anarchic and revolutionary and re-constructivist. The Diggers were quite angry and quite like the punks and much more kind of ready-to-go.
The strength of this culture is that it absorbs everything and sells it back to you. The Haight-Ashbury in a way was ruined when outside investors bought the local shops and wanted to kick the street people off because they got in the way of customers coming in to buy. The only guys you see with really long hair today are rock n roll musicians. They’re the only ones that can afford it. Everybody else has to work.
So the culture has this elastic ability to incorporate something and then sell it back to you as a style. The punks were ahead for a little while. Now you turn on MTV, and there they are––motorcycle jackets and leather whips and what have you and the next cut of kids will be a step ahead of them and the cutting edge is always pushing far enough out so that it can’t be co-opted. But I think what you learn as you get older is that any style can be co-opted. You have to get below style.”
MORE FROM PKM:
JENNY LENS: AN L.A. PUNK PIONEER
BOB GRUEN’S EARLY DAYS IN ROCK PHOTOGRAPHY