Photography Goes Back To Nature

Why are there so many photo series about back-to-the-landers, hippies and off-the-grid living?


The hippie is back. So is the American mountain man. And everyone is thinking about bygone days when it was righteous to live in clothing-optional tree houses in Hawaii.

In a world where drones with cameras hover overhead and government agencies tap telephones, where Internet companies mine big data to learn what cereal you eat, the dream of living a life of spiritual freedom and self-reliance off the grid remains a powerful one, it seems.

From Stephen Shapiro’s Bliss: Transformational Festivals and the Neo Hippie.

Last year, photographer Antoine Bruy’s series Scrublands which documented sustenance farmers in Europe and others living away from the entrapments (and conveniences) of modern life, became an Internet hit.

“Whenever the emails pile up or the traffic grinds to a crawl, many of us fantasize about leaving it all behind and unplugging,” noted Wired in an interview with Bruy.

From Antoine Bruy’s series Scrublands

More recently, a number of websites have featured a series from photographer Kevin Faingnaert, who documented what the Creative Boom blog called “an isolated community living in harmony with nature” in Matavenero, a remote and isolated mountainous region of North West Spain. Faingnaert shows how the residents of the eco-village have turned sustainability into a DIY art-form.

Photo: Kevin Faingnaert

Likewise. Feature Shoot showcased the series Recycled Villages from Italian photographers Diambra Mariani and Francesco Mion, which covers much the same ground, far off the beaten path.

When it comes to self-reliance, the American mountain man stands head and shoulders above the rest, at least in terms of romance. Earlier this summer, National Geographic’s Proof blog ran celebrated photographer David Burnett’s series on mountain-man re-enactors. Burnett, who spent two years among the modern mountain men, says he found them to be “a welcoming bunch who are really curious about what it took to live before the conveniences of modern life. They love knowing the old stuff, the authentic stuff — things that are no longer taught. And they love to share that knowledge.”

Photo: David Burnett, via National Geographic

“When I grew up, I read books on Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, and Daniel Boone,” said one of the re-enactors, Scott “Doc Ivory” Olsen, a dentist in Dillon, Montana.

Along with neo-mountain men there are the free spirits captured by another celebrated photographer, rock-and-roll photographer Jay Blakesberg, in his new book Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion and Surrender. The book features 445 photographs of what women who “are inspired by, and help inspire, live music.”

From Jay Blakesberg’sseries Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion and Surrender

There is also renowned photographer Stephen Shapiro’s new book new book Bliss: Transformational Festivals & the Neo Hippie.

“A long-term project he composed from 2012 to 2014, Bliss comes from the desire to investigate, understand and capture the joyful and peaceful sentiment that characterizes contemporary hippie communities, zooming in on the ‘bliss ninnies,’ a not-so-well-known group of insuppressibly optimistic people whose outlook extends to most if not all aspects of their lives,” noted TIME.

From Stephen Shapiro’s Bliss: Transformational Festivals & the Neo Hippie

Shapiro, who photographed a 1967 Life magazine story about hippies in San Francisco’s Haight Asbury district, says there was a totally different spirit then. “At that time, very many people were into heavy drugs and all,” he told the blog. “And what’s different now is the values have changed very much, and the hippies today are much more into meditation and into organic food and into sort of ecstatic dancing in a way.”

Be that as it may, the bygone days of free love — or at least nude tree-house life — has its allure. A number of websites have featured John Wehrheim’s portraits of the residents of Camp Taylor, an alternative community in Hawaii begun by Elizabeth Taylor’s brother in 1969.

Photo: John Wehrheim

As the Huffington Post tells the story, Howard Taylor was miffed at local authorities and so decided to invite a group of young men and women who had recently been arrested for vagrancy to create an encampment on land he owned on on Kauai’s North Shore. Wehrheim took portraits of camp’s residents between 1971 and 1976 and published them almost four decades later.

While Wehrheim’s interviews with residents reveal the reality of life in the commune, his images capture its dream.

And Finally … An Off-The-Grid Photo Competition

“More than a buzzword or flash-in-the-pan cultural phenomenon, ‘off the grid’ has become a way of life,” recently noted the Feature Shoot, which is running an off-the-grid photo contest.

The contest sponsor ImageBrief will give away 10 yearly Explorer Plus accounts to the top ten images/photographers and 10 three-month Explorer Plus accounts for an additional ten photographers selected. All winning photographers will run on Feature Shoot. Deadline: September 28.


Originally published at AI-AP

David Schonauer is Editor of Pro Photo Daily and Motion Arts Pro. Follow him on Twitter. Jeffrey Roberts is Publisher of American Photography (AI-AP) the finest juried collection of photography in hardcover as well as Pro Photo Daily. Follow him on Twitter.

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