Elaine Mayes: Haight-Ashbury Portraits

Exhibition: April 2 - May 9, 2009
Reception: April 2, 6 - 8pm

Steven Kasher Gallery is proud to present Elaine Mayes: Haight-Ashbury Portraits. The exhibition will feature over 40 vintage prints created in 1968 in the center of the San Francisco counterculture -- after the Summer of Love.  This exhibition shows together the Haight-Ashbury Portraits for the first time since 1969, and is the first exhibition of an expansive selection of the Portraits.


Mayes’ Haight-Ashbury Portraits have been highly regarded in photographic circles since their creation. A selection of prints was exhibited at the Minneapolis Museum of Art in 1969. About 20 images were published in Aperture in 1970-71. They have been purchased in depth by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Minneapolis Museum of Art. Recently, one print was exhibited at the Met, and one is included in the current MoMA exhibition Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West.


In 1968, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was crowded with young people seeking a better way of life. In 1968, the Hippie migration had turned -- to a deflated euphoria and harder drugs. The Haight was home to runaway teens who were finding that the world was more difficult than expected.


Mayes lived in the Haight, so she was photographing her neighbors. “Early on in the Haight I had realized that the Summer of Love was a media-fueled idea, and the media in fact had created the situation in the Haight.  I knew I wanted to make pictures that would show something other than the media version of Haight-Ashbury. I shifted from the photojournalistic approach that had served the magazine assignments to making formal portraits of people I knew or met on the street.”


Most of the pictures were taken just as she encountered her chosen representative subjects, people standing on the street, or sitting on stoops, or in the park.  Each subject was asked to look into the camera and project his or her image onto the film.  The subjects were instructed to concentrate and be still as Mayes made the exposure when the subject exhaled. Everyone photographed related to this process; after all, it was the 60s. They stare into the camera with candor and calm, their personalities startlingly visible, free of the stereotypes through which we so often view them. Each sitter signed a release form (except for a couple of draft dodgers) and wrote their own caption.


Mayes’ photographs have been exhibited and collected extensively. She has received numerous awards, including three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Mayes has taught photography for thirty five years at universities such as University of Minnesota, Hampshire College, Bard College, and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she was Chair of the Tisch Photography Department from 1997 until her retirement in 2001.


Mayes’ photographs are in the permanent collections of the Met, MoMA, SFMoMA, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Fogg Art Museum, the Getty Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and about two dozen other major institutions.

Elaine Mayes: Haight-Ashbury Portraits will be on view April 2 through May 9, 2009. Steven Kasher Gallery is located at 521 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10011. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 6pm.