This book of Berkeley-based photographer Ken Light’s (born 1951) earliest photos from 1969 to 1974 documents the social, cultural and political landscapes of America as they roiled with upheaval, and marks his transformation from a student activist to a concerned social documentary photographer. Light’s frontline photos show people across race, class and political lines, and counteract the truncated memory of the 1960s that has often been promoted by the media.
Light’s journey through America begins with teenagers at the beach with their transistor radio. Here is the quiet before the storm: high-school students with their Eisenhower textbook, retirees playing cards and cafeteria workers quietly striking. And then, suddenly, the new, alternative worldview bursts forth: the Vietnam Moratorium, the Republican Convention, riots, POWs returning home, Nixon’s resignation. What’s Going On? reveals how politically divided the United States was as a progressive, more egalitarian world order evolved. It stirs long-forgotten memories for those who were present, creates a cultural and historical legacy for the youth of today and argues that much of our current turmoil is the result of cataclysmic changes in the 1960s we have not yet absorbed.
Ken Light (born 1951) is a social documentary photographer with a particular focus on America. His nine books include To the Promised Land (1988), Texas Death Row (1997) and Valley of Shadows and Dreams (2012). Light has exhibited internationally, including solo shows at the International Center of Photography in New York, the Oakland Museum of California and the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. Among his awards are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and the Dorothea Lange Fellowship. Light is the Reva and David Logan Professor of Photojournalism at the University of California, Berkeley.