Two far-out books about California counterculture reviewed by Erik Davis

I'm honored that in the latest issue of The Burning Shore, Erik Davis, scholar of West Coast counterculture, reviewed The Family Acid: California, Roger Steffens's far-out photo album I published with my Ozma Records partner Tim Daly! Erik's excellent essay is a double review, also focusing on the Anthology Editions reprint of Dennis Stock's striking California Trip book from 1968.

From Erik Davis's The Burning Shore:

Steffens’s use of multiple exposures is perhaps the key gesture here. The decision to re-expose film is a dice throw, an act of faith in the playfulness of multiple perspectives and the value of subjecting an already captured image to the serendipity of leaps through time. Such images are also, of course, hallucinatory, and some of Steffens’ are trippy as shit. They not only recall the formal and symbolic palimpsests of psychedelic vision, but loop the question of the photographic object back into the eye of the beholder: seeing these impossible scenes, we glimpse our own seeing, our own congealing of reality from the virtual.

Other Family Acid images feature artifacts like diffraction spikes, iridescent orbs, and weird lensing effects. (Check out the cover shot up top, which juxtaposes the classic clerestory light of redwood groves with a mandalic UFO flare.) These are special effects, my friends, evidence of that hippie will to hack media tech in the quest for unusual experiences. They also recall the more sacred lights you can only chance upon, in the strangest of places if you look at em right, those wink-wink psychedelic glimmers that occasionally illuminate parking lots, or crumpled beer cans, or goofball commercial signage—Phil Dick’s “trash stratum,” temporarily kindled into something high and holy and wholly profane.[...]

As Anthology notes in their online copy, [Stock's California Trip] “became an emblem of the free love movement that continued to inspire throughout the decades.” This is what first stood out for me: the surfers, the multi-racial heads, the Jesus Freak graffiti on the back of a VW bug—plus the only interior shot I’ve ever seen of Mystic Arts World, the psychedelic venue opened by the acid-slinging Brotherhood of Eternal Love in Laguna Beach. But Stock was not covering the counterculture, let alone expressing its vibes from the inside, as Steffens does. Instead he was cataloging the freaks and flower children as simply further symptoms of a larger and more ominously infectious condition: California.

The Family Acid: California (Ozma Records)

California Trip (Anthology Editions)