Utopia New Mex­ico

Ir­win Klein and the New Set­tlers

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Af­ter pho­tog­ra­pher Ir­win Klein died in 1974, all of his neg­a­tives dis­ap­peared. Thank­fully, a port­fo­lio of prints he called “The New Set­tlers of North­ern New Mex­ico” sur­vives. The 80 im­ages taken be­tween 1967 and 1971 are fea­tured in Ir­win Klein and the New Set­tlers: Pho­to­graphs of Coun­ter­cul­ture in New Mex­ico, just out from Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press. In an in­tro­duc­tion Klein wrote in hopes that a book would be pub­lished, he says that the pho­tos show “a de­vel­op­ment away from the im­age of the hip­pie to­ward older Amer­i­can archetypes like the pi­o­neer and the in­de­pen­dent yeo­man farmer.” On the cover is Klein’s photo, Karla (tall woman in white dress) and other wed­ding guests bless the food at Ar­royo Hondo.

The 80 pho­tos pub­lished in Ir­win Klein and the New Set­tlers: Pho­to­graphs of Coun­ter­cul­ture in New Mex­ico of­fer a stun­ning glimpse into an Amer­i­can sub­cul­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, they also rep­re­sent the to­tal­ity of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s port­fo­lio on the sub­ject. “All of Ir­win’s neg­a­tives were lost af­ter his 1974 death. This was the whole se­ries,” said his nephew Ben­jamin Klein, who edited the new book from the Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press. “I had to do all the iden­ti­fy­ing of the sub­jects and lo­ca­tions be­cause the neg­a­tives, the con­tact sheets, the cam­eras — all that was gone.” The pho­tog­ra­pher’s ar­chive is lim­ited to sev­eral hand­fuls of prints in the col­lec­tions of the Palace of the Gov­er­nors, the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, and a few other in­sti­tu­tions.

The im­ages in New Set­tlers show the counter-cul­tur­ists (called hip­pies by the estab­lish­ment me­dia) chop­ping wood, mak­ing adobes, milk­ing goats, weav­ing, har­vest­ing corn, tend­ing sheep, and pre­par­ing food, with a good smat­ter­ing of por­traits and can­did shots of com­mune mem­bers in North­ern New Mex­ico. All the pho­tos are re­pro­duced from prints. “Philippa Klein, Ir­win’s youngest daugh­ter, came down from Mon­treal with some of the prints, and then Ir­win’s friend Stephen Karet­zky had a num­ber of the prints that he’d been car­ry­ing around for years. Af­ter Ir­win’s death he made a con­certed ef­fort to pub­li­cize Klein’s work. He went to the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art and East­man House in Rochester, and there was no in­ter­est.” The ex­cep­tion is a photo ti­tled Minneapolis Fire,

1962, which was pur­chased by MoMA and is con­sid­ered his sig­na­ture shot.

Klein was no am­a­teur. His tra­jec­tory as a se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­pher is ob­vi­ous in the com­po­si­tion, fo­cus, light­ing, and se­lec­tive scope of the New Set­tlers im­ages. At New Buf­falo, the Hog Farm, Lama, and other com­munes, he was as much a wit­ness as a par­tic­i­pant. “He was older, too,” Ben Klein said. “He was born in 1933, so he hung out with the beat­niks in Green­wich Vil­lage, and he went to jazz clubs, and by the time peo­ple were drop­ping out and go­ing to New Buf­falo, he was much older, and he had that in­tel­lec­tual de­tach­ment.”

The hip­pies were of­ten de­lib­er­ately provoca­tive, which is why they were good pho­to­graphic sub­jects :T hey were not hid­ing. Even the more in­tro­verted peo­ple were ex­ult­ing in their ex­pe­ri­ences and their progress.

Klein used a Brownie cam­era and did his own film de­vel­op­ing and print­ing as a teenager, and then he got into land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy dur­ing five sum­mers spent as a fire look­out in Mon­tana. In the mid-1960s,

Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy mag­a­zine pub­lished three of his im­ages, and two — Minneapolis Fire and “Su­per-Pop”

Artists — went to MoMA. He thought of him­self as a street pho­tog­ra­pher. He told Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy ed­i­tor Pa­tri­cia Caulfield, “I en­joy noth­ing so much as los­ing my­self in the con­tem­pla­tion of fa­mil­iar ob­jects: peo­ple sit­ting around and the drift of the streets.”

He vis­ited North­ern New Mex­ico be­gin­ning in late 1966, “just be­fore the trickle of hip­pie mi­grants be­gan to swell to flood stage,” ac­cord­ing to the book’s in­tro­duc­tion by his­to­rian Michael Wil­liam Doyle. The Taos area would soon be an epi­cen­ter for coun­ter­cul­tural col­lec­tives, but some of the “satel­lites” in neigh­bor­ing coun­ties are also im­por­tant to the story.

For the book project, Ben Klein was in touch with “a phe­nom­e­nally large num­ber of peo­ple: Arty Kopecky

and Lisa Law and Pam Hanna, just friends of friends. I could never quite crack Mora. [The writer] Charles Pol­ing had told me that Mora was even more off the grid than other parts of New Mex­ico. The Five Star Com­mune wound up in Mora, and my fa­ther [Alan Klein] had the per­spec­tive that Ir­win was re­ally in­trigued with the folks from Five Star. It had started out south of Taos at the hot springs and wound up in Mora. The story my dad told me is that they had got­ten some money from Jack Nicholson, just in sup­port, like, ‘Hey, you guys are great, keep go­ing.’ This whole project was try­ing to sub­stan­ti­ate sto­ries and hazy mem­o­ries, and a num­ber of the peo­ple I was in touch with are rather pro­pri­etary about the past.”

That could be seen as un­usual, be­cause the hip­pies were of­ten de­lib­er­ately provoca­tive — which is why they were good pho­to­graphic sub­jects: They were not hid­ing. Even the more in­tro­verted peo­ple were ex­ult­ing in their ex­pe­ri­ences and their progress. “Right,” Ben Klein re­sponded. “It’s just that it’s their lives and their ex­pe­ri­ences and they have a cer­tain per­spec­tive. And of course it’s fil­tered through what’s hap­pened since then.”

Cul­tural critic Lois Rud­nick, in her chap­ter ti­tled “The Great Hip­pie In­va­sion,” tells us that Beat­gen­er­a­tion writ­ers Gary Sny­der and Gre­gory Corso were among the coun­ter­cul­ture fig­ures who pre­ceded the hip­pies in the Taos area dur­ing the 1950s. In the next decade, thou­sands of young peo­ple moved to the vicin­ity to form ap­prox­i­mately 30 com­munes. These peo­ple gen­er­ally sought a life­style in har­mony with na­ture, re­jected ma­te­ri­al­ism, and pri­or­i­tized com­mu­nal self-re­liance and the ex­pan­sion of con­scious­ness. Mem­bers of New Buf­falo, near Ar­royo Hondo, per­haps the “ar­che­typal hip­pie com­mune,” used pey­ote as a sacra­ment, prayed at meals, and worked hard at agri­cul­ture and sus­tain­able, self­suf­fi­cient liv­ing.

Klein doc­u­mented what he de­scribed as “the dropouts, utopi­ans, and rene­gades” liv­ing in ru­ral towns in Taos, Rio Ar­riba, and Mora coun­ties. In El Rito, for ex­am­ple, some set­tlers found some­thing wor­thy in their search for anti-estab­lish­ment al­ter­na­tives. Oth­ers “dis­cov­ered that their of­ten ca­sual no­tions of adopt­ing tra­di­tional vil­lage ways and ‘In­dian’ cul­ture were un­work­able fan­tasies.” And although peace and love were gen­er­ally at the heart of the coun­ter­cul­ture, the set­tlers’ more tra­di­tional neigh­bors

were not un­af­fected by the in­va­sion. One sec­tion of Rud­nick’s es­say re­lates the an­i­mos­ity from His­pano residents, many of whom den­i­grated the long-haired coun­ter­cul­tur­ists and their sex­ual free­dom and use of hal­lu­cino­gens. “In­di­vid­u­als who sold prop­erty and wa­ter rights to hip­pies were re­garded as be­tray­ers of the peo­ple,” Rud­nick writes.

In the book, we see pho­tos shot in places not of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the coun­ter­cul­ture, among them Mora, Guadalupita, Te­suque, and El Rito. “My dad first came out to El Rito in the spring of 1967,” Ben Klein said. “The story is Ir­win was com­ing back from San Fran­cisco. He had been hang­ing out at the Zen Cen­ter taking pho­to­graphs and ... he had a friend, LP, who was hang­ing out in El Rito, so Ir­win stopped there on the way back to New York. My brother and I went out to live with my dad in El Rito in the sum­mer of 1969. Then my dad drove back to New York with two friends and me and a large dog in a VW Bug. I was only nine. That road trip is the best story I have of Ir­win and my strong­est rec­ol­lec­tion of him. There must have been a cou­ple of other trips to El Rito, and then I spent a sum­mer at Lama in sum­mer 1974.”

Rud­nick calls Lama “a rare ex­am­ple of the co­ex­is­tence of East and West” be­cause of the com­mu­nity’s pan-re­li­gious ethos. It is also unique be­cause it has sur­vived; Lama Foun­da­tion to­day is “a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion and spir­i­tual home to many.”

The term “new set­tlers” in the book’s ti­tle was coined by Ir­win Klein to de­scribe coun­ter­cul­tur­ists in New Mex­ico from the late 1950s into the ’70s. “The term en­com­passes a wider range of peo­ple,” his nephew said. “It changes our no­tion of peo­ple who were of a par­tic­u­lar age who were protest­ing the war, and so I think it com­pli­cated our un­der­stand­ing and gives it more res­o­nance and nu­ance. ‘Hip­pie’ is such a loaded term.”

Ir­win Klein, who died not long af­ter the pho­tos were taken, had planned to pub­lish a book. He ac­knowl­edged that it would be easy to view it as merely “a col­lec­tion of pho­tos of hip­pies, of an in-group or cult.” But he pri­or­i­tized the ad­ven­ture em­bod­ied by his sub­jects as “part of a time­less move­ment, the peren­nial at­tempt of hu­man be­ings to re­new the pat­tern of their lives.”

“Ir­win Klein and the New Set­tlers: Pho­to­graphs of Coun­ter­cul­ture in New Mex­ico” was re­leased by Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press in June 2016.

Ir­win Klein doc­u­mented what he de­scribed as “the dropouts ,u top­i­ans, and rene­gades ”l iv­ing in ru­ral towns in Taos, Rio Ar­riba, and Mora coun­ties.

Ir­win Klein: Mak­ing adobe bricks at Mora; op­po­site page, Bride and groom Mary Mitchell Gor­don and Rob­bie Gor­don at Ar­royo Hondo; all pho­tos cour­tesy the Ir­win B. Klein Es­tate

Woman chop­ping wood at Le­doux; op­po­site page, top, John­son boys feed­ing goats at Guadalupita; bot­tom, Sandy at El Rito

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