A renowned American journalist and photographer, Dennis Stock managed to evoke the spirit of the country through his memorable and iconic portraits of Hollywood stars, most notably James Dean. However, it was his travels around the West Coast that brought out his true genius, as he documented the apex of its freewheeling countercultural heyday. Published in a photobook California Trip, this more esoteric and lesser-known series captures the essence of a place where everything seemed possible.
When he first visited California in the 1950s, Stock was terrified of this big blissed-out state, but also enthralled by it. “For many years California frightened me; the contrasting arenas of life shook me up,” wrote the New York-born and -based photographer in the preface of his book. However, in 1968, a year of social, cultural and political upheaval, his own restlessness drew him on a five-week road trip along the California highways, taking in the unique, heady spirit of the place and photographing the curious characters he met along the way. “There, a recent trip blew my mind across this state of being, as I collected images along the way to remember the transient quality of the Big Trip.”
Stock’s images show a menagerie of interesting characters, from cult leaders, to hippies, off-duty actors, nudists and countless other free spirits at a seminal point in countercultural history, but with a gentle sense of unease. They capture what he described as “technological and spiritual quests” which “vibrate throughout the state,” but also a more complex, less utopian reality. In this “freewheeling potpourri,” as he describes it, we see people trying to make sense of the world through community, art, spirituality or science, juxtaposed with unsettling images that highlight racial tensions or allude to the era’s most penetrating political conflicts.
Offering a snapshot of a particular place and generation at its best, California Trip has amassed a cult following since its publication in 1970, becoming an emblem of the free love movement that continues to inspire throughout the decades. In print for the first time since its original publication, the new edition is a faithful reproduction of Stock’s timeless work.
The latest edition of Denis Stock’s California Trip can be purchased from Anthology Books for $35 in hardcover.
All images from CALIFORNIA TRIP, Reissued by ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS. Specific credits: Brucemas Day, Venice; and Venice © Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos.