Elaine Mayes’ Portraits Offer a Starker View of the Haight’s Summer of Love

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A young man with chin length hair sits listlessly on a front stoop; a woman wearing jeans, a denim vest and a white shirt tied up to reveal her stomach stands in a doorway in a masculine stance.
(L) 'Man Who is Avoiding the Draft'; (R) Marilee Trabioli, as seen in 'Haight Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968'  (Elaine Mayes)

A pretty young woman, age 18, sits cross-legged on a pillow-strewn nook. Her long blonde hair is parted in the center, her slender arms are neatly arranged in her lap, but her facial expression is forlorn.

Another young woman sits cross-legged on the grass in Golden Gate Park. Her curly hair is parted in the middle and her wrists decorated with beads, but her face is downbeat.

A 16-year-old boy, shirtless underneath a velvet jacket, leans against a tree, arms folded defensively in front of him, looking cynical and serious.

Frank French (L) and Ruth Murphy (R), two of the young subjects of Elaine Mayes' new book, 'Haight Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968'. (Elaine Mays)

Elaine Mayes’ new book, Haight Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968, is full of photographs like these. They are of young people caught in an historic moment. Teenagers in the midst of rebelling against the status quo while also being simultaneously crushed by it. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority of Mayes’ subjects carry an air of concern that belies their youthful features.

Mayes’ images offer a more measured depiction of the Summer of Love than is typically presented in these kinds of retrospectives. In her introduction to the 43 images collected here, the photographer explains that she simply asked her subjects “to pose or sit naturally, to look into the camera and project their image onto the film.” The results speak volumes about the stress placed on young people in the era of the draft.

A Black man wearing denim jeans and jacket standing in a wooded area; a teenage girl sitting on a leather couch in a simple white robe.
Rebel (L) and Cathleen (R), two young people living in the Haight in 1968. (Elaine Mayes)

Mayes’ Haight Ashbury photography isn't concerned with directly documenting the hedonism of the period. There is no carefree dancing in the park here, no nudity and — despite Mayes also being known for her Monterey Pop photos — no live music.

Sponsored

Instead, Mayes catches the individuals at the center of a whirlwind in quiet, contemplative repose, after the music, the party, the protest has stopped. The aura of the time is captured in the small details — peace signs hanging around necks, messages scrawled on walls about love and war and religion. Subjects sit in rooms decorated with rock ‘n’ roll posters, with guitars, empty cups and dirty ashtrays strewn around them. A few of Mayes’ male subjects remain nameless because they were avoiding the draft at the time she took the picture.

(L-R) Shari Maynard 19, Red Pappas 18, Stefanie Wyatt 17, Michael 20, and Sean Herrick 18, gather on Haight Street front steps in August 1968. (Elaine Mayes)

Mayes’ work doesn't offer the broad overview or the depth that Jim Marshall’s collection of photos did in his excellent 2014 book, The Haight: Love, Rock and Revolution. But it does offer a quieter, more introspective view of the kids who were there. Kids that — as Haight Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968 so brilliantly encapsulates — were often lost and simply trying to find their place in a world that was pushing down hard on their young shoulders.

'Haight Ashbury Portraits 1967-1968' by Elaine Mayes is out Nov. 8, 2022, published by Damiani.