Elaine Mayes: Haight-Ashbury Portraits 1967–1968
Edited and essay by Kevin Moore
Group on Stairs with Cat (Shari Maynard, 19, Red Pappas, 18, Stefanie Wyatt, 17, and Sean Herrick, 18), Haight Street, August 1968
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist
Elaine Mayes was a young photographer living in San Francisco’s lively Haight-Ashbury District during the 1960s. She had photographed the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and, later that year, during the waning days of the Summer of Love, embarked on a set of portraits of youth culture in her neighborhood. By that time, the hippie movement had turned from euphoria to harder drugs, and the Haight had become less of a blissed-out haven for young people seeking a better way of life than a halfway house to runaway teens. Mayes shifted from the photojournalistic approach she had applied to musicians and concert-goers in Monterey to making formal portraits of people she met on the street. Choosing casual and familiar settings, such as stoops, doorways, parks, and interiors, Mayes instructed her subjects to look into her square-format camera, to concentrate and be still: she made her exposures as they exhaled.
Mayes’ familiarity with her subjects helped her to evade mediatized stereotypes of hippies as radically utopian and casually tragic, presenting instead an understated and unsentimental group portrait of the individual inventors of a fleeting cultural moment. Elaine Mayes: Haight-Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968 is the first monograph on one of the decade’s most important bodies of work, presenting more than forty images from Mayes’ extensive series.
Mayes’ photographs have been published and exhibited widely and are in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts grants and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Mayes taught for over thirty years and is Professor Emerita at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she was Chair of the Photography Department from 1997 until her retirement in 2001.