What's Going On? 1969-1974

Ken Light

Ken Light

Ken Light

Ken Light

Ken Light has worked as a journalist and documentary photographer, focusing on social issues facing America for over 50 years. His work has been published in ten books, including, Midnight La Frontera, What’s Going On? 1969-1974,Coal Hollow, Delta Time, To The Promised Land, With These Hands, Texas Death Row and Valley of Shadows and Dreams. He is also the author of the text Witness in Our Time: Lives of Working Documentary Photographers, now in its second edition. His new book Course of the Empire is forthcoming. He is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Photographers Fellowships and the Dorothea Lange Fellowship. His work has been in numerous magazines, newspapers and a variety of media (electronic & film), and presented in over 230 exhibitions worldwide including one person shows at the International Center for Photography (NYC), Oakland Museum of California, S.E. Museum of Photography, Visual Studies Workshop, Visa pour L’image Perpignan (France) and the San Jose Museum of Art. He is the Reva and David Logan Professor of Photojournalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley. He was the first photographer to become a Laventhol Visiting Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“... the photos that make his new book, What’s Going on?, so great are the less-familiar ones: the everyday person out waving flags in support of Nixon, the garage band taking to a makeshift stage in support of McGovern, the kids hanging out in West Oakland. It’s photos like these, so common at the time, that gain importance with age. They give contour and meaning to historical projects such as this.” ---- Mother Jones Magazine

These photos are my earliest work from 1969 to 1974 document the social landscape of America as it roiled with upheaval. I began as a participant in the youth movement and then became an observer of the entire spectrum of the cultural and political wars in America. I criss-crossed the country with youthful passion and a yearning to explain his country to myself, asking, “What’s going on?”

Along the way, my frontline photos documented people across race, class and political lines. The resulting portrait is more than a flashback. It is a unique and important historical record that counteracts the truncated memory of the sixties that has been inserted into our psyche by both editorial and commercial media. Like a pavlovian response, the sixties conjures up images of young people smoking pot, dancing high on LSD to rock music in the park. In fact, those years weren’t like that at all for much of America.

What’s Going On? shows the gritty, down home truth of the working class trying to keep a toehold on the American Dream as wages began to stagnate, and unions weakened. It shows how college students, informed by the media about government policies in Vietnam became disillusioned and then empowered to protest. And, the photos shows how divided the United States was politically as the new, more egalitarian world order was foisted upon it.

photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo photo