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California Trip

Dennis Stock captures hippies, starlets and free spirits on his famous freewheelin’ journey through 1960s California

Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock Man holding a surfboard on beach steps in Corona Del Mar. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

“There is no question that the Americans are vagabonds,” said Dennis Stock, “Our highway system and size makes it very attractive to ‘truck on down’.” He was speaking in reference to Road People, a 1971 documentary photography project focused on hitchhikers and other people he came across on the United States’ famous open roads, but he revealed something of his own wanderlust when he went on to say, “Many of us take to the road in motorhomes, trailers, on motorcycles or by hitchhiking. This itch to see ‘what is over the hill’ is something that I can easily relate to as a photographer.”

"The people were constructing layers and dimensions of life that unsettled me"

- Dennis Stock
Dennis Stock Military display. Sacramento State Fair. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock North Hollywood. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock San Diego Coastline. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

Stock’s own restlessness drew him to the highways in the 1960s, when he drove through California, taking in the unique, heady spirit of the place, and photographing the curious characters he met along the way, from cult leaders, to hippies, off-duty actors, nudists and countless other free spirits that are drawn to the state. As part of our Road Trip series this summer – which includes Inge Morath’s Road to Reno and Thomas Hoepker’s Coast to Coast – we present Dennis Stock’s California trip alongside his own words on the west coast state.

Dennis Stock The Van Damme State Park. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock The McCoy Commune in Novato. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

"Surrealism was everywhere, the juxtapositions of relative levels of reality projected chaos"

- Dennis Stock
Dennis Stock La Jolla, California. USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock The McCoy Commune, Novato, California. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock A wrecked car dump, Compton. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock The University of California campus at Irvine. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Along the waterfront in Venice. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

"This itch to see ‘what is over the hill’ is something that I can easily relate to as a photographer"

- Dennis Stock
Dennis Stock At "Leisure World", retirement community. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Anton Szandor La Vey, the High Priest of the Church of Satan. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock State border at Lake Tahoe. USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

“For many years California frightened me; the contrasting arenas of life shook me up. Even though I found the sun and fog, sand and Sierras which conveyed a firm image of stark reality, the mother vision of life, the state seemed unreal. The people were constructing layers and dimensions of life that unsettled me. Surrealism was everywhere, the juxtapositions of relative levels of reality projected chaos. For the young man with traditional concerns for a spiritual aesthetic order, California seemed too unreal. I ran.

Dennis Stock California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Berkeley, a father. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

"Our future is being determined in the lab out West."

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Dennis Stock California, USA. 1967. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Sacramento State Fair. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Couple in Novato. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Bikini on a California beach. USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock Resting on a sidewalk at North Beach, in San Francisco, California. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock The "Dennis the Menace Park" in Monterey. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

Fifteen years since my first trip West, I have some new thoughts about gloryville. Every idea that Western man explores in his pursuit of the best of all possible worlds will be searched at the head lab – California. Technological and spiritual quests vibrate throughout the state, intermingling, often creating the ethereal. It is from this freewheelin potpourri of search that the momentary ensembles in space spring, presenting to the photographer his surrealistic image. However, to the Californians it is all so ordinary, almost mundane. The sensibility of these conditioned victims is where it is all at, right, left, up and down. Our future is being determined in the lab out West. There, a recent trip blew my mind across this state of being, as I collected images along the way to remember the transient quality of the Big Trip.”*

Dennis Stock A Mars tracking station. California, USA. 1968. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos

*Dennis Stock, September 1968, from California Trip (1970).

Read the other stories from the Road Trips series here: Inge Morath’s Road to Reno and Thomas Hoepker’s Coast to Coast.