“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
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.
"Surrealism was everywhere, the juxtapositions of relative levels of reality projected chaos"
- Dennis Stock
"This itch to see ‘what is over the hill’ is something that I can easily relate to as a photographer"
- Dennis Stock
“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.
"Our future is being determined in the lab out West."
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.”*