Now stripped of the hundreds of campaign stickers that covered every conceivable surface [Sept. 19, 2012, Big Picture: “I Consider Myself the Obamamobile”], Lisa Law’s midnight blue GMC Envoy sits incognito outside her home. A new collection of decals brewing on the vehicle’s back bumper denouncing Monsanto and calling for the regulation of marijuana, however, give the noted activist, author and filmmaker away. A tie-dye flag featuring an emblazoned peace symbol waving from her porch seals the deal.
Inside the house, mementos from Law’s illustrious photographic career—ranging from candids depicting a young Bob Dylan to a meta portrait of Dennis Hopper standing in Law’s entryway—line the walls.
The works are just a miniscule sample of Law’s extensive archives, which are housed in a casita at the end of Law’s backyard, past a guest tepee and “Silver,” her trademark painted bus. Shelves and filing cabinets are stacked to the rafters. Asked to describe the spirit of the 1960s, Law picks up her book, Flashing on the Sixties and reads the foreword by Ram Dass.
“These photographs are nostalgia, pure and simple: memories of a time of Divine Funk,” she recites. “Yet they chronicle a moment in history when there was a mushroom explosion of consciousness and a resulting increase in life force…”
A quote by longtime friend Wavy Gravy also kicks off the tome. “Anyone who remembers the sixties wasn’t there.”
Law refers to the decade as “a time of incredible freedom.” One that, because she was married to Peter, Paul and Mary's road manager and was herself the personal manager to the manager of the Kingston Trio, was laced with brushes with fame.
Their union, she says, cemented bonds between the East and West Coasts.
“We were, like, the perfect hippies. We were the king and the queen of the hippies,” she recalls. “We went to the Haight Ashbury, we did mushrooms with the Mazatec Indians, built our own houses, lived off the land in Truchas and we helped at the communes in New Buffalo…”
All the while, Law documented her everyday life, a trait she picked up during childhood. “My father gave me a camera. He was a documentary filmmaker besides being a furrier,” she says. “I would document everything single thing was happening to me and I still do today.”
Because of that, Law has a seemingly never-ending wealth of images. Some of which have become emblematic of the era.
Having already captured the era’s life force spirit in her book and a “tribal documentary” film of the same name, Law has her sights on what she considers to be the next step: a full-fledged museum dedicated to hosting her extensive collection, as well as educating younger generations on what the decade—ridded with counterculture and radical, political milestones—meant.
“First, I was gonna do a really big thing, with lot of other people’s stuff. But then I realized, I have enough to fill it,” she says. “I’ve got enough material to fill 15,000-square feet.”
Law’s sprawling archives, which spill over to a nearby shed, also contain an expansive collection of blotter art—intricately designed pieces on perforated, acid-dipped paper.
Since its first conception, Law has scaled back her vision, which originally included a hotel and would require a multi-million dollar investment. “Tom Udall said he was gonna help me get funding, but it just didn’t come through like I thought it was.”
Waiting for her benefactor, Law reflects on her aesthetic. “Anything that makes me emotional, I capture on film.” So, her assemblage is laden with everything from rare, aerial shots of Woodstock, to intimate moments starring the likes of Dylan, who she met at the beginning of his carreer when he traveled to Los Angeles and ended up living in the Laws home, dubbed “the Castle.”
“I was his masseuse and I cooked for him,” she reminisces. Law looks up to a shot she took of him, clad in a black and white polka dot shirt and smoking a cig, that served as inspiration for Cate Blanchett’s Academy Award-nominated performance as the singer-songwriter in the 2007 film I’m Not There.
“She plays my Dylan,” she says, pointing. “That Dylan.”
Because of Dylan, members of the Velvet Underground soon checked in. Law remembers a stint at the Trip nightclub, that because of the avant-garde nature of the show, was short-lived. “Andy Warhol was showing his Screen Tests in the background; they were singing about heroin; and within three days, they fired them,” Law says of Lou Reed and the crew’s brief residence.
The Laws moved to Northern New Mexico in 1967 to have their first child, Pilar, at a facility that practiced natural childbirth, and here grew roots at the couple’s 14-acre Truchas farm.
Janis Joplin rolled in the area, Law recalls, to shoot a cigar ad. She approached the photog with a particular request. “I’m tired of these city men,” Law says, mimicking the songstress’ signature raspy voice. “I want me a mountain man!”
Law pulled through.
“She came sauntering up the driveway the next morning real happy because she made love all night long to this guy—and I’m not telling you his name. He’s a famous artist here in New Mexico.”
Moments after, a glowing Joplin took a respite against the façade of the Law compound, which results in an image that’s been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Law pauses for a moment, looks around at her surroundings, and suddenly the museum dream becomes a mission. “Those are all proof sheets, those are all negatives,” she says, signaling to some nearby stands and taking a sip of her chai latte. “Nobody has seen half of these things, or even a tenth of them.”
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Janis Joplin and Tommy Masters in Truchas, NM on the Law Ranch, 1970
Bob Dylan at the Castle, Los Angeles, CA, 1966; Lou Reed rehearsing at the Castle for a gig at the Trip with the Velvet Underground, Los Angeles, CA, 1966. All images © Lisa Law