His iconic photographs of James Dean in a chilly New York acquired him fame. But it was his roams in the west coast that brought out his true genius, as he captured the rifts in the 60 s counterculture

‘For many years California scared the shit out of me ,” Dennis Stock wrote in the foreword to California Trip, first be made available in 1970 . “ For a young man with traditional concerns for spiritual and aesthetic guild, California seemed too unreal. I ran .”

Stock, a naturally sceptical New Yorker who had served in the US Navy before hustling his practice into the grades of the reverenced Magnum photo busines, had instinctively picked up on the edgy undercurrents of the late 1960 s Californian hippy dream. As the idealism of that decade peaked and faded, California became what Stock called a” premier laboratory”- fomenting various radically alternative lifestyles fuelled by eastern mysticism, experimentations in communal living, and all kinds of post-LSD subconsciou expansion.

And, as the likeness in the recently reissued California Trip show, Stock’s initial apprehensive incomprehension soon turned to fascination. In time, he came to see California as the frontier for a brand-new kind of society where” technological and spiritual searches vibrate … intermingling, often forming the ethereal “.

Photograph: Dennis Stock/ Magnum Photos

Almost 50 years later, and nine years after his death, California Trip now seems both prophetic and elegiac, Stock’s free-flowing approach tolerating the negations of the time to speak for themselves. There are images of sun-kissed, back-to-nature hippy duos and marching black militants, missile cornerstones and utopian communes, endless Californian beaches and a column load of rusting autoes in a scrap garden. In one picture, a tousle-haired infant cavort next to a Hells Angels motorcycle gang member. To Californians, he wrote, this was ” all so everyday as to be mundane “.

With hindsight, it is clear that California Trip upends our received thought of Dennis Stock, who remains most famous for his intimately discovered epitomes of the young James Dean in the months before his death in September 1955. Stock befriended the young Dean after attending an early screening of East of Edenand subsequently photographed him on the chilly streets of New York and on a trip back to his family home in Fairmount, Indiana. When the ensue photo essay appeared in Life magazine, it facilitated plaster Dean’s status as a new kind of film star: pensive, intense and ill at ease with the Hollywood fame factory. In the immediate aftermath of Dean’s untimely demise in a automobile disintegrate, Stock’s personas attained an almost mythic halo that remains to this day, arguably overshadowing his other work.

‘ The icon get in the way’ … Stock’s filmed of James Dean, New York, 1955. Photograph: Dennis Stock/ Magnum Photos

” Dennis was not always happy about the importance of the James Dean photos ,” says Hanna Sawka, who aimed the decorate 2011 documentary, Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock.” He made some quite bitter statements about the pictures, that parties weren’t seeing them as they should because the icon get in accordance with procedures .” Stock’s widow, writer Susan Richards, who describes him as” the most confident person I ever assembled”, should be remembered that the renown of the Dean photographs” maybe faulted him a little bit, but he likewise knew that the iconic prominence of images enabled him to have the lifestyle he had “.

Stock had joined Magnum in 1951 and, the following year, shot an extraordinarily candid successions about Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia for Life magazine. Following the success of the Dean series, he began photographing jazz musicians, incorporating striking, monochrome descriptions of the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong with often spectacular images of their performances.

In a mode that was unadorned and intimate, he set about capturing the reality of the nomadic jazz life as well as its drama. In one poignant persona, a struggling musician, Bill Crow, lugs abass across a Manhattan street in what looks like the early hours of the morning. In another, he captivates an ecstatic Earl Hines pounding on the forte-piano in a smoky guild, the sense of the music’s joyful momentum evident in a single stilled moment.

Against all this, the images in California Trip score a dramatic difference, though one that had been taking shape in his work throughout the 1960 s. The more free-flowing narrative mode of Stock’s Californian scenes was surely be a primary consideration in his dalliance with the moving likenes, which began when he left Magnum in 1968 to focus on documentary film-making. It likewise speaks of a relentless innovative interest and open-mindedness that, as Sawka’s film demo, was not always immediately evident in his everyday interactions with people.

In the film, as he educates a photography class, his students often seem overawed by the sheer presence of a mortal whose minds have often been strongly contained and forcefully articulated.” He was quite a personality ,” says Sawka, giggling.” Sometimes people were offended by him, but the gruffness disguised a deep sensitivity and unity .”

Shadow gambling … Playa Del Rey, LA, 1968. Photograph: Dennis Stock/ Magnum Photos

Richards concurs:” He took no hostages. He could be harsh with people, including his friends and, the next time, the gentlest, sweetest guy. If you didn’t know him, he could appear arrogant .” Richards, who was his fourth wife-” I converge him when he was older and mellower and not jaunting so much”- applies his combativeness down to a childhood in the Bronx that was tagged by privation and family dysfunction.

” His mother was a helpless party, and his father was absent a lot because his responsibility as a mansion painter asked him to travel.[ Stock] was raised in a family that moved in the night a lot because they could not pay the rent. He told me that, when he was just seven, he was working odd places to support his mother. That kind of experience leaves its rating and I think that, to a degree, he was ashamed of his childhood poverty .”

It also made him resilient. He served his photographic apprenticeship with Gjon Mili, an Albanian-born pioneer in action photography, who formerly savagely informed Stock he would never be a Life photographer.” Dennis did not see that as a bad thing ,” says Richards.” It rolled right off his back. He construed it as that he would never fit the mould that Life expected- which was fine by him .”

For all his combativeness, Stock was essentially a radical New Yorker who was instinctively drawn to the promise of the Californian counterculture of the late 1960 s and early 70 s. The most well-known image from CaliforniaTrip is also the most subconscious and intuitive. Shot from behind, his vibrant portrait of a young woman in a cotton dress dancing on stage at a rock carnival in Venice Beach in 1968 excretes all the exuberant optimism of the time.” This minor exactly marched up on stage and started dancing ,” he would later recall, equating her to” a contemporary ballerina”- and himself to his hero, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The hippy dream … Novato, California, 1968. Photograph: Dennis Stock/ Magnum Photos

California Trip, though, perhaps owes more to an American tradition of road photography that extends back to Robert Frank, Walker Evans and beyond. Stock’s east coast outsider gaze sets on the darkness of the California dream as well as the sunlight: bikers, anti-war objectors, the disenfranchised as well as the utopian. In one arresting likenes, a black duo in a ceremony in Watts, Los Angeles, had generated an ornate tableau in which they are series to the Liberty Bell. An idyllic image of a hippy couple on horseback contributes lane to a portrait of Anton Szandor LaVey, the self-styled high priest of the Church of Satan, who constitutes theatrically in front of a pentagram and a human skull.

” If there is a strand to be observed throughout my work ,” Stock later said,” it’s that I’m relatively affirmative, I’m not inclined to draw morons of people and I affection beautiful .” As the reissued California Trip shows, he had an acute eye, too, for the shadows throw by the unforgiving Californian sun, the darkness beyond the surface dazzle.

* California Trip is out now, reissued by Anthology Editions.


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