After attending Stanford and the San Francisco Art Institute, Elaine Mayes became a struggling freelance photographer in her neighborhood, which happened to be San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury.
It was 1967, and she was photographing her neighbors, who happened to be Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
"Everyone was sort of equal then. They weren't celebrities because 'it' hadn't happened yet," says the Berkeley-born Mayes, whose pictures of the rising stars appeared in Aperture magazine.
Mayes was hired that year by Hullabaloo magazine to photograph the Monterey International Pop Festival. The mother of all rock fests, and later to inspire Woodstock and the East Bay's own Altamont, Monterey Pop was a turning point in rock history, though few knew it at the time. Sharing the stage that weekend was a multiracial, multigenre array of future legends, including the Who, the Byrds, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Simon and Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar, Jefferson Airplane, Lou Rawls, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Scott Mackenzie, Canned Heat, and two Berkeley bands: Country Joe and the Fish, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
"Practically all the bands that were there, it was their first break," Mayes says. "The whole music industry changed as a result of things that happened in Monterey." One of those things was that a young fan named Jann Wenner was in the audience. Within months, Rolling Stone magazine was born in San Francisco.
Mayes shot the whole festival, mainly from the press pit right in front of the stage. She was so short of stature that at one point, she sat on someone else's shoulders to shoot.
Other than the photographs that Hullabaloo used, Mayes' Monterey pictures spent the next three and a half decades in the obscurity of her files. Unpublished and virtually unseen for so many years, they now comprise a new book, It Happened in Monterey: Modern Rock's Defining Moment.
Among these images are Janis Joplin in a stretchy top, mouth open wide, and Hendrix in flamboyant cuffs, grimacing. Mayes was particularly overwhelmed by Hendrix' performance. The guitarist was already a star in Britain, and became a stateside icon after Monterey.
Defining moment though it was, Mayes soon left that world.
"I decided I didn't like photojournalism. My idea of documentary is that there are ways to invent doing it, and photojournalism is kind of a formula about narrative journalism. It constructs something before it happens," says the NEA fellow who eventually went on to become one of the first women to teach photography at the university level, most recently at NYU.
But how did the experience of capturing a transformative cultural movement shape Mayes' future photographs or view of photography as an art form?
"I've worked on a lot of projects and various kinds of documentary and other things, and I wouldn't say that work affected me except it was part of the whole process," she says. "I wasn't able to sell pictures from Monterey right after the event, except for a couple, because the world moved on and everyone forgot about Monterey. From my perspective, it was just a job I did, but a really good one. It was a very exciting time so the pictures I took from that time I consider important.
"I'm somebody who turned out to be a photographer for reasons of personality, probably, and it always seemed better to be doing photography than something else. Everything is practice for the next thing."
For Mayes, the latest "next thing" is her current photography project, immortalizing the landscape and culture of Hawaii. Despite growing as an artist over the last three decades, she notices deep similarities between her photographs of the heady hippie days and her serene landscapes of Hawaii.
"In a way," she says, "there's no difference."
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