Albuquerque Journal North Feb. 9, 1991
Lisa Law is a hippie who didn't turn yuppie. She still lives part-time in a tipi, as she did during her years as a honorary member of the Hog Farm traveling the country, although this time the tipi is in the back yard of her west side Santa Fe home. In summertime, she doesn't go to the grocery store-instead, she grows all of her food in a small organic garden.
And Law, 47, still yearns for ideals such as harmony, peace and equal rights for all people-the same things she and others yearned for at the height of the'60s revolution. Law was at the epicenter of the time, widely viewed as a time of awakening of new values, and she made a name for herself as a photographer of such '60s icons as Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Wavy Gravy and Timothy Leary.
Many of Law's most well known photographs are featured during a month long show at the Century Gallery, which opens with a reception from 3:30-6:30 p.m. today. The show also includes some of Law's more recent photographs, including strife in San Salvador, and Navajo Indian life and political struggles in Arizona.
And a highlight of the reception is the premiere of the documentary film called "Flashing On The Sixties," which Law produced and directed. Law finished the film about five months ago, and last week she signed a contract to have it distributed to high schools, colleges and libraries throughout the United States, she said during an interview at her home Friday. "I never stopped believing in what I believe in during the '60s. I just kept going, and now I'm looked at as a documentarian of that time, " Said Law, who describes herself as a documentary photographer. She said she sensed during that psychedelic time that her role was to chronicle events including Human Be-Ins and Woodstock.
"The '60s was a very tender, loving, caring time, and those values are still out there." In fact, Law said, the resurrection of '60s fashions and political slogans is more than just a coincidence.
She said the values of the '60s are slowly but surely permeating mass culture. And that those values are as vital as ever, Law said, especially with a war raging in the Persian Gulf and environmental concerns reaching a feverish pitch.
"Then, we were fighting to stop the war in Vietnam, and today we're struggling again to bring our boys home," Law said. "As Wavy Gravy says, "The '90s are the '60s standing on their head." Everything is moving back to healing and being natural, and that's directly related to what we were doing as responsible human beings. These values are getting strong again because we don't want to be numbed. We want to have a strong and caring voice."
In the mid-'60s, Law and her husband lived in Los Angeles at a home know as "The Castle," which became a gathering point for drug experimenters and rock stars.
Law was an honorary member of the Hog Farm commune based in Berkeley, Calif., during the late '60s and roamed the country with other members in wildly decorated buses. The Hog Farmers traveled to Woodstock together in 1969, and Law helped to run the free food booths, which fed over 160,000 people who attended the music festival.
And during all these adventures, Law took photographs. She said she didn't realize at the time that she was actually chronicling the movement of a generation, but she instinctively treasured her negatives and proof sheets.
Law admits she might have been stuck in the '60s for a number of years, and for this reason she has sought out new subjects in recent times. But while her images have changed, her ideas have remained the same, the photographer said.
"My main concern now is natives, indigenous people and their struggles to remain whole with their cultures and spiritual beliefs, " Law said. "But I've always been interested in the struggle for human rights, and all my photographs show people who are trying to make the world a place that is honest and righteous. I'm now a woman of the '90s.
Law lives on her memories. Timothy Leary squinting at the sun at
the Human Be-In in San Francisco. A young Harrison Ford fixes the
wiring at at a friend's house in Hollywood. Ken Kesey perched like
a Valkyrie on the hood of his painted hippie bus (Named "Further"
as it loses to Wavy Gravy's in the Great bus Race outside Santa
The '60s zeitgeist seems to have appointed Law its official photographer. She was always in the right place at the right time, always knew everyone involved and always had her camera. "Back then, when I shot a picture, I didn't know how important it was going to be," she says.
"Now I know."
Law came to Santa Fe in 1974 with her four children, whose names read like an ascending mantra: Dhana Pilar, Solar Sat, Sunday Peaches, Jesse Lee Rainbow. That's when she started selling photos of her friends-memories were already in demand. Today, Law's extensive archive is used by everyone, from public television to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. UNM uses her Flashing On The Sixties as a history textbook.
But Law, 52, is not exclusively into the '60s; she's also an active advocate for teens of the '90s. And she's concerned that Santa Fe seems to have so little time for its youth. Recently, she helped Mark Rendleman raise $69,363 for the CCA teen center.
Santa Fe can raise $100,000 for AIDS patients that come here to die," she says. "Why can't we raise that for the living?"
Soon she'll be living north of town in Embudo, working on her next five photo books in a house she's building on land she and her children own together. Her purpose in life now? To get her remaining images---her "other children"---out on their own. R.U.
Simone Lazerri Ellis
Lisa Law celebrated her 31st year as a professional photographer in 1993 with the release of her award-winning documentary Flashing On The Sixties in the home video market. Flashing On The Sixties won the GoId Plaque Award at the l99I Chicago International film Festival, was invited for a special screening at the 1991 Woman's in Film Festival in Los Angeles, and won a Silver Award at the 1992 Worldfest Houston. Lisa's book of the same title sold out two printings.
Her career as photographer began in the early sixties. Camera in hand, and working, assistant to a manager in the rock and roll scene, she began taking pictures, Whether she was back stage with The Beatles, Peter Paul and Mary the Kingston Trio, Otis Redding, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, taking promotional photographs of Janis Joplin and Big Brother, or at home making dinner for house guests like Bob Dylan or Andy Warhol, her passion for photography grew into a profession.
Since that time, Lisa has specialized in documenting history as she has experienced it. As a mother, writer, photographer and social activist, her work reveals distinctive communities of people, including the homeless of San Francisco, the El Salvadorian resistance against military oppression, and the Navajo and Hopi nations struggling to preserve their ancestral religious sites, traditions and land. She continues to document any musical events and the musicians of today as well as current political activists. She plans to publish three follow-up books of the subsequent decades in scrapbook form like her book, Flashing On The Sixties.
Lisa's work has been published in over 50 books and on 22 record albums, CDs and tapes. Her editorial credits include Time, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, High Times, Vogue, Esquire, and National Geographic.
The night I caught up with Lisa, she was in the bathtub. She was known for using the tub as an office, after a long day of whatever she might have been doing, almost always something physically active. "Who's this?" she teased when I said hello. We'd been friends and a co-media team, as well as neighbors in Santa Fe, where Lisa's made home base for some 25 years, and where I lived for seven years before moving to Montana. I started with my usual line; "You're going to electrocute yourself that way." hearing the waves splashing around her, referring to the cordless phone. Lisa laughed and assured me that she is using the "old fashioned" kind with a cord these days.
I'd found her at home, in between her many documentary outings, ensconced in her adobe "get away" on top of a mesa in New Mexico. As one of the most sought after activist photographers and the media, Lisa is always on the road. This woman never stops. At 54, she runs circles around everyone who knows her, which is a lot of people, most of them in the famous category. This isn't surprising, considering her and position of being in demand to shoot from the hip with one phone call, or to add the definitive photo to a project from stills that she's shot year around for three decades.
Known especially for her photographs of the sixties (and the fact that she and Hog Farmer Bonnie jean Romney headed up the team running the communal kitchen at the original Woodstock), Lisa Law didn't stop shooting when the American M16s stopped in Vietnam. She is also known for her ceaseless activism today in the nineties. She has at her fingertips one of the largest archives of images from America's subculture sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and when that millennial clock ticks a moment into the 21st century, you can be sure that Lisa will be somewhere on this earth doing something from dawn until midnight that really needs doing in the most whole earth way.
Can you tell me about the most inspirational person in your life?
The most inspirational woman in my life? When I was six, my mother hired a black woman to take care of my brothers and me. Her name was Cora Lee Waller. She was from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And she would always say to me, (falsetto) "Lisa, you're so daring!" So when I'm out there doing something bold, I always say, "Lisa, you're so daring!'"
Simone-You really are so fearless. Do you think that quality has given you the edge in your art? I'm thinking of a photo shoot I saw you doing of the Native American trick riders, at Indian Market, and you were right up there with those horses pounding past you, and some times riders flying over your head, and you were just click, click, You loved it when one of the horses Reared up, right over your head! Click click click click.
Can you tell me about your first camera?
I got my first camera from Frank Werber, the manager of the Kingston Trio. My first good camera, Frank gave me.
Didn't you take pictures when you were a little girl?
Oh, you mean my first camera. I had a little box camera. When I was a young girl I was always shooting with a little Brownie. So I was photographing all my friends in school, and the parties we used to put on in high school, and all my boyfriends, and we'd go to the beach and I'd shoot ... I've got pictures of me standing next to my Ford Fairlane, in a bathing suit, down by Malibu.
And then I became the photographer for Galileo high school, for the newspaper. I have a picture of myself walking around the football field with a camera on my shoulder, shooting for the newspaper.
That's really grueling, do you think that's where you started to learn about your discipline?
I learned that I liked capturing special moments. I went to College of Marin and took a course in photography, and learned about setting up people for portraits. But I think one of the best teachers I ever had was Guy Cross. He taught me how to photograph large groups of people and get them to look at you, how to excite them and get them to do things that is fun. He also taught me how to deal with people when I was doing their portraits, how to touch them so that they got softer. You touch them on the shoulders, straighten them up a little, brush their shirt or whatever it is you do. A personal touch that makes them relax a little. What I like doing is really capturing the moment. It's a challenge. It's like Janis Joplin leaning up against the wall with Tommy Masters. I was kind of scared to take pictures of Janis. I hadn't shot pictures of her in three years. I didn't want to interrupt a private moment, but I picked up the camera and did a few shots. Well, that shot of Janis Joplin leaning up against the wall is one of my more famous shots of her. She is sitting on the ground after spending the night with her mountain man that she found. She'd come to New Mexico looking for a mountain man while she was doing a cigar commercial. She said, "Lisa, you can help me. Help me! I want me a mountain man. I'm tired of these city men!' And, I said, "I know of one, he's up at Truchas, " and she came up and he happened to be visiting, and she went off with him for the night. The next morning she came back and she was wearing sandals with heels and a feather boa and her paisley madras outfit, smiling and carrying on and very, very pleased with herself. In the photograph she's talking to Tommy Masters, who's Dylan's driver now; he's a horse trainer. And it was a special moment.
Photography is a wonderful, wonderful thing, you know. I mean look, you have a little, tiny little hole in the camera, and in comes the image through this tiny little hole. And it comes through the lens and goes to the back, where there's film. And the details of that person contact the emulsion of that film. And then you go in reverse, because of the light and the darkness coming off the image. Then you print it and it makes a positive on paper. I mean this is an unbelievable process, that you can get that image of that person on film through this little tiny hole. Can you believe it? It's an amazing process.
In the late '70s I was asked to photograph the strip mining of Black Mesa in Arizona for Rebel Magazine, which was published by Larry Flynt. I made some contacts and ended up staying with Woody Kedenihii and his family in Tuba City. He took me for a tour of Black Mesa and showed me the process of strip mining. Then he showed me where his parents lived and how they lived. That's when I learned about the austere lifestyle of the Navajos. I was hooked. I love helping people; now I could take on an entire tribe.
The U.S. government-it was Ford that did it, President Gerald Ford. He signed into law Public Law 93-531 in 1972, during his administration. This divided a joint use piece of land that was occupied by the Navajos and Hopis into two sections. That section of Big Mountain was where 10,000 Navajos lived.
It just so happened that Big Mountain was sitting on top of a huge vein of coal. These Navajos were being asked to leave their land and relocate, the excuse being a dispute between them and the Hopis. The real dispute was, and continues to be, between traditional Indians who are opposed to land and mineral development on their lands, and their tribal councils and outside forces that support development. Seven thousand Navajos relocated. Their lives were permanently destroyed, for the Navajo language there is no word for relocation. To relocate is to die.
Three thousand residents of Big Mountain decided not to move, to resist the relocation. These were the people I chose to help, and I wasn't the only one. 'There were hundreds of volunteers who lived with the Navajos and supported their resistance.
I started working with Big Mountain Defense in Flagstaff, and ended up being the am contact in Santa Fe, working together with other wonderful, dedicated volunteers. I helped organize marches, demonstrations, and lectures; collected donations, bought groceries that were then distributed among the resistors to the relocation. We delivered Choro sheep-that's the kind of sheep with more lanolin in their wool, the original sheep that they had before their herds were polluted with other kinds' Once we delivered Choro sheep in the middle of the night. My daughter Pilar helped during one of these deliveries. It was almost like a Tony Hillerman mystery. We drove in tandem, twelve miles in the dark on a dirt road to meet the truck hauling sheep from Utah Navajos would pull their trucks up to the side of the semi, tie the legs of the sheep so they wouldn't move and we would load three to four sheep into each truck.
Pilar and I documented this, me in black and white and she in color. We only had one power pack with two cords, so we had to move together as we photographed the event, almost like Siamese twins connected to each other by umbilical cords. It was a special moment of bonding between Pilar and me.
Tory Mudd directed an Oscar-winning film called Broken Rainbow a bout the plight of the Dine (Navajo) on Big Mountain, and the fact that the BIA put up a fence to divide the two pieces. It was moving documentary, but seemed to have little effect on the government's and the BIA's position. We were at a loss as what to do next.
Some of the members of the Big Mountain Defense got involved with a weaving project that was helping many Dine resist relocation by remaining self-sufficient. The ones I worked closely with were Goose, Hidden Mountain, Arlene Hamilton and Martha Bourke.
You brought in J. P DeJoria. How did that work? Because it's one thing to just hand money over to a resistance camp...
He backed my documentary, Flashing On The Sixties, and that's how I first met him. He gave me money the first time he met me. He liked my book, Flashing On The Sixties, which is be g published for the third time August of this year, and he thought if he were to make a movie on the'60s he'd make it just like I did, so he backed me. So after wards, he
Was sort of wedded to me; there was no way he could get rid of me. I was in his house; I drove his cars. We were pals. This was when he was first starting to make his fortune.
He makes J. P. Mitchell hair products, right?
He's the CEO of Paul Mitchell Hair Systems. He's got about twelve other businesses. He's nonstop, this guy. It comes from being actually a very poor Harley biker. Very poor. Poorer than I ever was.
How did he help the resistance?
He said to me, 'You said you wanted to do another project; you wanted to do a movie on the Native Americans." And I said, "Actually the movie's already been done, and I've been thinking, I'd rather help them first hand, because a movie's not going to help them personally. It only helps people understand what's happening, and then nothing happens to them. They're still in the same situation." So I said, "Let's help with the weaving project." That's a project I really like, because you bring out the weavings and you bring back 90 percent of what they're worth, rather than taking them to a trading post and getting only 40 to 60 percent of what they're worth. That way you support the independence of the women who are weaving and their families; you support their struggle by getting them financially able to resist. And then you support them in any other way they ask for help. Rather than doing something for them, you do what they want.
He said, "I'll give you $10,000 to start with." I went to the weaving project and asked them what they would do with $10,000. They said, "We don't know", and I said, "Well you better have the answer by tomorrow morning, because I'm going to give you ten thousand dollars." Martha Bourke and Arlene Hamilton were helping the weaving project.
Martha said, "We would make a color brochure. Right now we just have a blue and white one and it just doesn't do it."
So I said, "That's what you need to do, you need to get the word out." So I said, "Here's $10,000. I'll watch and keep track of the money, and you let me know what you're doing with it so I can tell him." He's ended up giving them probably $250,000 so far, plus we got Discovery to come out and I produced the shoot for a special on the Discovery channel. He's put that Discovery tape into his own videos that show him working with the Navajo. And we were able to bring out lots and lots and lots of rugs and to support the resistance through his donations.
What's happening right now?
They still want to ensure that the last resistors leave. They want them to sign a piece of paper that says that the land does belong to the Hopis. They want the Din to admit that it doesn't belong to them, whereas the resistance says it does belong to them because their treaty says it does. And it does belong to them. Their treaties were broken, and the deeds to their land are there, and the government is not acknowledging them.
Something I'll never forget, you said that their umbilical cords for 1000 years are there.
They're buried under certain bushes on their sacred places on the land.
It's just like going in and asking you to get out of your house. If someone said "Just leave, it no longer belongs to you," you'd say, "You're crazy, get the hell out of here." And they're saying, "No, you're a dumb Indian savage, get out. You have no rights; you're stupid, you're dumb, you live out here on this nothing piece of land. They put them on this god forbidden place that has no water and nothing growing and no grass and no anything, and what's happened is the richest coal deposits, the richest uranium deposits and natural gas deposits in the country are right there, underneath them in this god forsaken land. Now they're saying, "Let's move them again." They're continually moving them, and it's genocide, because by moving them to tract homes and taking their sheep away, you've taken their livelihood, their lifestyle away. The kids are going to go out drink. They have to pay for gas and electric, whereas before they didn't. They lose their cars because they can 't make their payments, they end up drinking and the old people die. They die right off, because they're heartbroken. So we're killing off these beautiful natives, from the land that we've raped and pillaged.
Who are also incredible artists. Who are creating magic every time they weave. Every time they make a fire, they pray. Every time they do something with water, they pray. Every time they eat, they pray. They pray for everything.
Do you do that in your life? Is that one way you keep your courage up?
Praying? I pray every day, at every meal. And I give thanks all the time. When I go to my garden, and I stand there and look at the little seedlings coming up, I give thanks. Because to me, to be able to walk outside, to see things grow that I have cultivated and that will nourish me, I give thanks all the time. And that's what I try to tell my children, if they're worried about this or that, what they need to do is think about what they are thankful for, and just be thankful that they have what they have.
In the middle of that, I went to El Salvador.
How did that happen?
I was at the Hog Farm anniversary.. Wavy Gravy's place in California, and I was baking in the mud with Milan Melvin and his lovely wife, Georgeanne. They turned to me and said, "Would you like to go to El Salvador and take food and other aid to the people there, especially the women and children?" They wanted me help them to do their video documentary to show what was going on down there.
And I said, "Ha ha, sure." Like, this is never going to happen, but boy it sure did and fast. They were supposed to drive down with me, and we'd shoot all the way but about three days before, they couldn't go, so they said they'd meet me there.
Well, hadn't shot anything but still photography since the Woodstock footage. So three nights before I left, my son Solar had to learn how to use the equipment and teach me I just don't learn any other way.. I have to have "hands on" experience, and hear and most of all, say it out loud. I had never shot with a video camera before! The Woodstock footage was shot with film.
Oh man, they are really different mediums, too!
Yeah, that's right. But a camera is a camera when it comes to politics. So I flew t San Antonio where there were trucks coming in from all over. There were 14 trucks with aid. Pastors for Peace organized it, and they were aimed at San Salvador.
The people were trapped in a civil war between the Arena government and guerrilla forces of the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front-Ed.). The United States had sent, over a 13-year period, 400 billion dollars in aid to El Salvador's military forces and government. Over these same thirteen years, more than 75,000 civilians had been killed or had disappeared. Thousands more were tortured. Human rights violations gripped the nation, and we were supporting the regime that was waging low intensity warfare on its own citizens. Women were raped daily, and threatened that if they said a word they would be killed, or their families would be killed as well. When they wouldn't cooperate or admit their collaboration with the FMLN, they would torture them. They were "disappearing" a lot of politicos right then too.
Wasn't that around the early '90s?
Yes, in 1990. J.P. DeJoria backed my trip. You have to pay to help. Thank god for JP's sponsorship. I had to fly down to Texas and back from San Salvador and pay $500 for food too.
Is it unusual to have to pay to go on an activist trip?
No, it is the norm... but there are people like J.P. and churches and organizations that are ready to do that. Always remember that.
So, when we got down to Central America we met with the women whose brothers had been killed, whose fathers had been killed, whose husbands had been killed (Lisa's characteristically strong voice cracked at this point). There were just the women and children left in some villages. The crew showed up at that point, so I became the assistant cameraman.
We went to a dump where five hundred people were living in, God, these little shacks they'd built out of two-by-fours and cardboard. We brought them corrugated roofing, because when a rain came their entire house would disintegrate, they'd be left just sitting on two little fold-up chairs with all their possessions soaking wet, disintegrating around them. I mean that's how they were living! Things got so bad the rural part of the country that these people had come into the city to live.
But, of course there is no room in the inn when they get there, right?
Right. There were at least 500 people living in all that filth in the dump. The city wouldn't let them get water, so they dug a hole down to the main water pipe and connected their own water. We were interviewing them, and they served us Iunch. They had no money, no homes, and yet they served lunch! On the way do to San Salvador we stopped in Guatemala, and I took a photograph of some women in the market. They were wearing Huipils from their area. I asked them why they were so far away from their home. They said their tribes were being wiped out and they had to run. They let me take their photograph only after I told them I was shooting for Mothering magazine.
Guatemala is the worst war zone now, I hear.
Anyway, we got stopped at the border and they wouldn't let us across. A year before, Pastors for Peace were turned away at the border, went all the way back to D.C. and protested; drove back down and were finally let through. And here the El Salvador government was going to do it again. They took away the visas of our three main people.
What did this border patrol look like? Lots of guns? Rude shoving?
They were little short people, wearing white (she laughs), but that's not the point; they were using whiteout on our people's visas! And you're not supposed to white out people's visas! So we said 'Wait a minute, if those three people don't go with us we don't know what we're doing. We've got fourteen trucks full of aid and we don't know what to do with it without them. We're just the drivers."
They [Pastors for Peace group] decided to have a stand-in, instead of a sit-in. So I got out my trusty video and started to record every move this little pip-squeak was making. He got furious and came running out of little cage and came up to me. Just at that moment my co-driver, Keith, a very large Grateful Deadhead, his arms crossed, stood right behind me staring at this little guy. Here I am, filming away, and the border patrol guy says, "Who are you making the film for?" I kept filming and said, "The President of the United States."
At that point we were the ones that were backing the army. Two more Americans had just been killed down there, and the army couldn't afford any more mistakes like that, or they would lose all our support.
So, we went back outside and were ready to continue the stand-in, but he came out and threw our visas at us and said, "Go." We got in our trucks and left.
They didn't want us to go into the countryside to witness. See you're supposed to witness whenever you are a mission like this. And they didn't want us to see the devastation of what they were doing to the villages.
Or help anyone in the rural areas with aid, right?
Right. Even the people who met with us told us not to go to the country, that there were army blocks every where, and that we couldn't go. But that's what we'd come down there to do: deliver aid.
They finally said that there was one village that we could get to. Everyone wanted to go. Nobody wanted to stay in town and deliver the two last trucks except the film crew, so I volunteered. I was the only one who volunteered, besides two local women. So there I was with a 22-foot and an 18-foot Mercedes Benz box truck.
I delivered the 22-footer first. Everywhere I went, I would stop and women and kids and men would come running out and unload the truck, and then their organizations could take the aid out to the rural areas.
This is in the city of San Salvador? Right in the middle of a war zone? Seems like one could get killed just for driving a Mercedes Benz in most cities of this country, much less there! Lisa, you're so daring! Weren't people really hungry by then... trucks full of food?
Not just food, but building supplies, medical supplies, clothes, wheelchairs, and sewing machines and tractors. You name it; I had everything in there, corrugated steel, books, bicycles!
All by yourself? Did you get scared?
(Pause) I was exhilarated! Because I was the only one driving, and I was documenting at the same time. I'd jump out of the truck and start shooting. In fact a government spy was sent out to watch what we were doing. A woman who was helping told me, "see that man over there behind the tree, who's one of the government agents that's been spying on us."
So I just turned and walked over to him, shooting, and he just stood there and just about lost it! And I was fearless! I was just... click click, click click click, right up in his face with my camera.
Lisa, didn't it occur to you that you could get killed?
The next stop was the worst. The two young girls are helping unload the 18-footer. And there I am driving around the suburbs, these tiny streets with an inch on each side to spare, with this huge truck.
Did driving the Hippie Bus all those years help you Iearn to drive like that?
I learned how to double clutch! The Grateful Deadhead even said, "not bad sheeefting!" I loved it. I loved getting up with the light, loved the driving and logging my videotape every night. I loved it! I recommend it to everyone.
So here I was delivering outside this school, and I started painting these flowers on the truck, you know, and somebody had seen boxes being unloaded from the truck, and they thought they were filled with arms; so they called the military, the air-force, actually. The air force were the ones who had just killed the Jesuit priests.
And I had just photographed the actual location where they were assassinated. And where their graves were. And where the bullets in the beds were. The rooms where the gardener's daughter and wife were killed. And I had just finished photographing that, and I turned the corner and was held up by ten men with machine guns.
They said, "Let's see your papers, Senor!" And I said, "Senora!" They checked the back of truck and said, "What did you deliver?" And I said,
"Books, and art supplies". . I had just been to a school. And (laughing) shampoo and conditioner. I brought 6,000 bottles of John Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Shampoo and The Conditioner down there with me!
They, meanwhile, go back and search eve single box of shampoo that I had left.
I called J.P. that night, and told him, "J.P., you know, they went through all your boxes of shampoo and conditioner." He got all shook up... "Well why, why would they do that?"
And I said, "They thought there were bullets in there, and ammunition."
And he said, "Well, it's only shampoo! And conditioner!"
I said "I know, but they didn't know that." He told me to get out of El Salvador, right now. He was afraid I'd get killed.
It probably blew his mind. It does mine. Were you afraid when you saw those machine-guns?
No not really, not until I got back in the truck, and the two girls with me asked me that and I said no, and they well you should have been. That was the very same group that just killed the Jesuit priests."
I had to do a lot of sneaky photographing because they were always watching and you didn't want them to see you shooting. But I didn't think the El Salvadorian military was going to kill any of us. They just couldn't afford to do that. I didn't think they would kill an American.
Don't count on it, Lisa. You truly are daring and it's contagious; your activism gives me courage.
What I learned from the trip was that you can hear about a situation on the news, like Israel and Palestine. You can hear it, but you don't understand it until you're in the middle of it. We made a devastating documentary. We sent that video to Congress, and we were out of there within a year.
I learned how these people had to survive a war, and it made me stronger. We get complacent in the U.S. Don Juan said you have to change the direction you're looking in to change your life. El Salvador did that for me.
We, in our country, have not experienced a thing compared to what those women are going through. Nothing. Even in Guatemala, they went right into the villages because they wanted the land that the Indians had. The Indians own the land in Guatemala and they work part of the day and the rest of the time they sit back and talk to their families and hang out, because they don't have to kill themselves to go out and earn property. They own it. Well, the Guatemalan government didn't like that. They wanted that land. They wanted to grow stuff on that land, so they went in there and just wiped those villages out. They smashed the villagers up against trees, sliced the necks of the old people, and stabbed the young men. They left only women, and a lot of times they didn't even leave women. They just obliterated them, to get the land. Pure and simple genocide. They're shooting orphans in the street in the gutter. They see an orphan and they shoot him. These people have been going through incredible hardships.
That's why I think I have the strength that I have to do as much as I do, because I have seen other people's work to do things to survive, and I have no complaint. I've never complained really about anything. I just do it.
How can other women find commonality with your experience? Any woman could do this, couldn't she? The human spirit is strong enough.
In 1966, I lived with the Mazatecan Indians of Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico. I ate the food they ate and helped them sell their fruit in the market place. I wore the hand made Huipils of the Indian women. Indian women have always been my teachers. I took the sacred mushrooms with a Curandera and had a vision of mountains and valleys filled with smiling faces of native women with their hair in colorful braids. met and photographed an old woman in the plaza, which became my photo, "Mushroom Lady," that I sent you. It was also a very colorful poster in the Sixties. So for me to experience other people and what they're going through, I become like them, sort of like a chameleon.
Do you want to know the secret to in life?
When I was little, I used to be ridiculed for day dreaming even by my mother, which was a shame. A lot of people don't understand daydreaming. I dream awake what it is that I want to accomplish. And then go and do it. When you see little kids out there daydreaming, don't interrupt them! Those are the artists, those are the dreamers, and those are the doers.
And I don't let anything get in the way. I might have struggles. The energy that I have is not something [some people] understand, so they put it down and they try to squash it and act like it's unimportant, it's worthless. I know that what I'm producing is very worthwhile, and people who do not have that same energy want to make you feel worthless to make themselves feel better. I think there are a lot of women out there who have an immense amount of strength, who don t do anything because they're afraid of what people will think of them-what their husbands will think of them, what their relatives would think of them. It's important to surround yourself with people who think you can do what you want to do, and get away from the people who put you down or think you can't do it. You have to change whom you hang out with and whom you relate to.
The deal is, for women, to daydream what it is that would be exciting, different, and helpful, to their society. I always feel that not only do I do things for myself eve day, but also I have to think about others every day. And even if I'm building a house and preparing something for me, it's in an anticipation of having the time to write a book that will then help others. So if you incorporate helping people in your everyday life, every week life, every month live, and you also take care of yourself, and you daydream what it is that you want to do, you can actually daydream up the story that you then follow, and it becomes real.
Every thing that I do is daydreamed first-build g houses, doing books and videos. You just have to believe that you can do it. Don't let anybody say you can't, because everybody said, all along, that I couldn't. Every thing I did, they said I couldn't do it. Imagining and magic ... those words are a lot alike.
I used to be called the white witch of Truchas because I used to heal people, and I was a herbalist. For a time I was doing a lot of magic, in a certain part of my life. I don't do that so much any more. I think we go through phases of certain types of things that we do. Imagining is a kind of magic. Maybe that's all you really have to do now.
Lisa Law's children, Solar, 29; Pilar, 27; Sunday, 24, and Jesse 22, are spread from California to Miami. They're bilingual, activists, and humanitarians; eat all natural food, grow gardens, and dance to the same music as Lisa. The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
Lisa's newest endeavor is being a partner in a telecommunications business in Santa Monica, so she has each leg in one world. One day you can find her at home in her vegetable garden in the mountains of New Mexico, and the next day she'll be working with twelve customer service employees in her office on the ninth floor of a building overlooking the Pacific Ocean with her friend Steven Kalish, who believes she can do anything she sets her mind to.
Simone Lazerri Ellis served as art critic for PASATIEMPO at the Santa Fe New Mexican, Crosswinds, The Magazine, The Albuquerque Journal, and others.
|Photo by Lawence K.Ho. 1998.||Lisa
Law .There's one in every family, in every group of friends, sidling
around the edges of things, marked only by that distinctive shutter-hiss-snap
and white-bright flash. The one with the camera. The one who keeps
the records--the celebrations, the turning points, the events. The
person to whom the others turn for the evidence of their lives.
Lisa Law has been the one with the camera for as long as she can
remember. Her friends, however, were folks like the Kingston Trio,
Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Peter Fonda, Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin
and Andy Warhol, and their moments were, well, the '60s. The Human
Be-In. The Haight-Ashbury. Various communes. The Monterey Pop Festival
and, of course, its more famous stepchild, Woodstock.
For some, the '60s are an obsession. For Law, it's a profession. Hundreds of photos has Law, thousands of photos, some of which are collected in a book--"Flashing on the '60s"(Chronicle Books, 1987)--and a documentary of the same name. But beyond that, Law is her own cottage industry, the unofficial archivist of the counterculture. If you need a picture of Vietnam War protest marches or bikers in the Panhandle or Dylan in the early years or a community of teepees, Law's the one you call. Why, if the Smithsonian ever wanted an exhibit of those turbulent years, Lisa Law would be a natural resource. And they did, and she was. "A Visual Journey: Photographs by Lisa Law" opened last month at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where it will remain through March. Sixty-three photos are on display; an additional 148 are available through the archives. "The Smithsonian," Law says. "Unbelievable. Two and a half million people will see these pictures. What a trip".
All Began With a Psychedelic Bus.
As with many trips, it began with a psychedelic--a psychedelic bus named Silver. Three years ago, Law offered her newly restored hippie bus to the museum; along with the offer, she sent her book and a packet of photos. The venerable institution replied: The bus is too big, but the photos we want; do you have more? Well, yes. They dispatched William Yeingst to comb through Law's collection. "This is a wonderful overview, from one woman's perspective, of the counterculture," says Yeingst, a museum specialist who, with Shannon Parish, curated the show. "Her pictures evoke many emotions, and there has been a full range of emotional responses." "They went through everything," Law says. "Photos, slides, my proof sheets. It took three days. He wanted a lot of stuff I hadn't ever really considered--lifestyle images, natural childbirth. I shot everything that was happening. "I'm not a photographer," she adds, all evidence to the contrary. "I'm an activist with a camera". Seated in a conference room overlooking the streets of Santa Monica, Law is an image of a force at rest. Although she lives in New Mexico, she is co-owner of Global Communications Network, a Santa Monica-based telecommunications company. She looks interdisciplinary rather than contradictory, against the streamlined formal leather chair in a loose black tunic and pants that are edged with color that could be tie-dyed but aren't quite. There is a lot of silver wrapping wrist and finger, dangly earrings and the hair is still hippie long but gelled a bit. Her face has spent much of its time in the sun and her eyes are vivid, her gaze direct. Her work bears out her sound-bite bit of self-analysis. Law's photos chronicle the psychosocial upheaval in a very personal way. "The pictures follow my life," she explains. "My life just happened to follow the movement." Born in Hollywood and raised in Burbank, Law's career as lens on a generation began in the early '60s when her work for music manager Frank Werber drew her within shooting range of dawning stars, including the Kingston Trio, the Beatles, the Lovin' Spoonful and Peter, Paul and Mary. It was Werber who gave Law her first Pentax camera, a fact she acknowledges gratefully every chance she gets.
Went to Live in a Magic Castle.
She met her future husband, Tom Law, backstage at a Peter, Paul and Mary concert; he was their road manager. In 1965, they moved into the Castle, a Los Feliz mansion that became a hostel to the hip and happening, among them Dylan, Nico, Reed, Barry McGuire and Andy Warhol. She took all their pictures. After that, her life reads like a guided tour to the '60s: She was there at the protests, the be-ins, the love-ins, the concerts. And she took pictures. She was there at the ashrams, the hot springs, the clubs. She tried communal living--"to hard," she says now. She lived in a teepee. And she took pictures. She and her husband finally settled down with their soon-to-be four children on a farm in Truchas, NM. "I had my babies and got back to nature," she says. "I baked bread, grew my own wheat, had ducks and chickens, the whole bit. I sold vegetables to the neighbors. We made applesauce and jellies and lived on food stamps. We were trying a great experiment with a little help from the state. I loved it. It was absolutely fantastic." And, of course, she took pictures. When her children--Dhana Pilar, Solar Sat, Sunday Peaches and Jesse Lee Rainbow--were still small, she and her husband split up. "He was into free love," she says briefly. "I was not." For a while, she and the children returned to Los Angeles, where Law became a professional photographer, shooting weddings and rock bands. "I did a lot of album covers," she says. She raised her kids, she built a house in New Mexico, she put together the book and the documentary, she lectured. In between she became, she says, "the historian who keeps it all together." "Lisa has just fantastic photos," says Tom McKnight, who has worked with Law as a designer and buyer for the Hard Rock Cafe, where many of her photos appear. "Other photographers have cool stuff, but Lisa was involved in it all--she set up the kitchen at Woodstock--that's what makes her pictures so different." Lately, that role has been in much demand. One reason she is in Los Angeles this autumn afternoon is to work as a consultant on a Lynda Obst NBC miniseries called "The '60s." "So many of the iconic photos of the time are Lisa's," Obst says. "She had been everywhere. It's really amazing. I wanted her blessing and her ideas, and she gave both with incredible generosity." Law was sent an early version of the script to check for anachronisms, and she's spent some time OKing sets for the Hog Farm, a late '60s commune in New Mexico. "I had my own chair and my own assistant," Law says, laughing. "It was very cool. I changed some things, like they didn't have plastic plates at Woodstock; they were paper." And, of course, she took pictures. Many of which Obst then bought. "Lisa really has an eye for the spirit," Obst says. "She watches for the moment that the spirit is released and then captures it". This isn't her first consulting gig. She gave a cultural once-over to an Andrei Codrescu documentary and Oliver Stone's "The Doors". "Meg Ryan asked me how women were treated in the '60s. I said, 'Not very well.' " One of the reasons communal living did not work, she adds, was the unequal division of labor--the women were expected to do everything. There is something regal about her, despite the almost constant sense of self-narration. She takes herself seriously, takes what many now consider a phase of mass adolescence very seriously. "The spirit of the '60s was the idea of being able to choose one's own lifestyle," she says. "We made mistakes--free love didn't work, communal living didn't work--but we were experimenting. Look at the world now--you see so many health stores. That's from the '60s. People are getting more holistic, they're embracing Eastern religions, women are having natural childbirth and nursing, that's all from the '60s."
Has the Ability to Market Herself
Law is not a throwback wandering around with flowers in her hair.
To keep the career she has chosen going requires a certain persistence
and a relentless ability to market herself, both of which she has. When
the Smithsonian approached her, she had to find a way to pay. So she
contacted her friend John Paul DeJoria, CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems.
He bought the photos and donated them and Law happily doled out free
shampoo and conditioner at the luncheon held for those who made the
exhibit possible. "J.P. has always supported me," she says. "So I promote
him. He sent me to El Salvador in 1990 with Pastors for Peace, and I
handed out shampoo to all the Salvadorans." But Law is a working, rather
than nostalgic, activist. When she fans out issues of Hemp Times bedecked
with her photos of friends Dennis Hopper, Roger Daltrey, Michelle Phillips,
Peter Fonda and Graham Nash, she speaks without irony. She sees the
legalization of hemp as a solution to a multitude of ills. She believes
the Big Mountain Weaving Project, in which blankets are sold to make
their creators self-sufficient, will help change the world. And when
she talks about always taking her children with her, including to a
Sun Dance at which the youngsters ecstatically "gave flesh," her sense
of urgency, of commitment, is palpable. "In other countries, they have
vision quests to become a man or woman, to prove yourself. There's not
much to do in our culture, so you have people out there who feel they
aren't worth much. I took my kids everywhere so they could see that
the work is real." If her life were a movie, at least one of her children
would be working for a Republican senator or as a corporate lawyer.
And certainly they would have changed those names. But here in real
life, one daughter runs a teen center, another a Hare Krishna temple,
one son is a massage therapist and a horticulturist in Brazil attempting
to save the rain forest, the other is a Swing dance instructor and a
massage therapist. She has made herself a living example of commitment.
Law plans to start work on a museum in Santa Fe that will celebrate--what
else?--the '60s. So she's rounding up the usual suspects--Wavy Gravy,
Peter Yarrow, DeJoria. "People are all excited," she says. "Outside,
we're going to have a teepee and a replica of New Buffalo commune. Inside,
all sorts of pictures and exhibits." And the centerpiece? Silver, of
course, she says, laughing. "I've gotta find a place for that bus."
Copyright 1998 Los Angeles Times All Rights Reserved