Picturing the ’60s counterculture through ‘Memories in a Trunk’
Imagine rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan back when they were in their heyday. Dale Smith has an interesting story to tell about that. At the tender age of 19, he was photographing 1960s’ counterculture heroes up close and personal. And he has a trunkful of photographs to prove it, 30 of which he is showing for the first time at Julie Baker Fine Art through March 12, in a show called “Memories in a Trunk.”
Now a confident single dad of 60 living in Nevada City who writes and owns his own advertising agency, Smith was in the right place at the right time and knew the right person. While attending California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland in the ’60s, where he was learning to be a wordsmith and photographer, he developed a friendship with one of his professors, poet Michael McClure. This acquaintanceship was the entree to the world of such Beat poets as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg. In fact, it was Ginsberg who actually arranged to have Smith photograph him and his friend, singer Bob Dylan, along with McClure, in the alley behind City Lights Bookstore, thus producing “Alley Cats,” a favorite of Smith’s. Dylan, on the other hand, chose “Biograph,” a large limited edition print which the gallery is now selling for four figures, to appear on his album of the same name.
Then there is his story of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival: “We had backstage passes and got to mingle with the performers – Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel and many others. Naïve kid that I was, I only photographed the musicians whose music I liked. I wasn’t much of a Grateful Dead fan, but I liked Janis Joplin. I wasn’t into Jimi Hendrix, but I liked The Airplane. I liked The Mamas and Papas and Simon and Garfunkel but didn’t care for The Who.
“(We) were relaxing on the lawn when Brian Jones (of Rolling Stones fame) suddenly stepped out of a trailer. His hair was perfectly combed. He was wearing a bejeweled Victorian era cape and by all outward appearances he was very loaded. Because his feet were hidden beneath the hem of his cape, he appeared to float in slow motion across the lawn. I grabbed my camera and walked up to him started taking photographs; he didn’t seem to mind. I took two leisurely rolls. Brain drew a crowd; people were talking to him, but he was totally unresponsive. I remember how dilated his eyes were; he seemed unable to focus. Two years later, he was dead.” The resulting photo Smith titled “Semi-Precious Stone.”
Then, of course, there is the story of Jim Morrison of The Doors, who, Smith said, made a pass at his girlfriend of that time. Thirty years later Smith met up again with his old love, now a cowgirl in Idaho, and asked her to come clean about her having spent time alone in Morrison’s dressing room. Smith recalls: “She looked at me for a long moment, her eyes smiled and she said, ‘I told you, we just talked.'” The photo Smith took of Morrison in 1967 at the Berkeley Community Theater is called “Audition.”
But the photos Smith took of war protests were even more important than the celebs, he feels, saying he is especially pleased with the picture of the flag-draped little girl, now a large, eye-catching print.
At the packed exhibit reception Feb. 10, Hank Meals, a local who once was a photographer for San Francisco’s Bay Guardian said, “It was a grand time; everyone was opening up in reaction to the ’50s. The Beatniks were fizzling just before the hippie thing started up.”
Did Smith know what he had back then? No, he says, blaming his lack of foresight on being young and foolish. Doing more with them wasn’t on his radar screen. That plus an allergy to photo chemicals caused him to set them aside until 1996, when he found them. Now he wants to share them with as many nostalgic baby boomers as he can.
WHAT: “Memories in a Trunk”/ Dale Smith photos
WHEN: Now through March 12; Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. (also by appointment)
WHERE: Julie Baker Fine Art, 307 Spring St., Suite B, Nevada City.
INFORMATION: Call 265-9ART or go online at juliebakerfineart.com
Smith’s books for middle and high school students (and guides for teachers) include “What the Parrot Told Alice” and “What the Orangutan Told Alice,” for which he traveled to Borneo to do research. His daughter Alice is the Alice in the title, a 15-year-old who attends Nevada Union High School. In a review, the famous Jane Goodall calls him “a leading environmental writer for children.” Smith’s Web site is http://www.dearcreekpublishing.com; he is working on a third book.
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