Entrance (a.k.a. Guy Blakeslee) just released the great Promises EP and is gearing up for a full-length early next year via Thrill Jockey. In the meantime, he’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Readers, you’re in for some really good stuff.
Blakeslee: I first became aware of Roger Steffens and his family around the time I landed in L.A. in the autumn of 2005 when a friend of mine known as the Captain took me on a research excursion to the Steffens home in Echo Park. Without knowing what to expect, I found myself in a cavernous basement with many extra rooms carved out of the unfinished dirt walls, all completely stuffed to the brim with memorabilia of the 1960s and the reggae world of Bob Marley … there was one room with a print copy of every issue of Rolling Stone starting from issue one, which had John Lennon on the cover wearing an army helmet; there were collections of cassettes and buttons, posters, books, photographs galore, and a slide projector set up to view selections from a massive disorganized pile of slides containing photos by Roger … of festivals and concerts, Vietnam War images, candid and intimate shots of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh … The Steffens house was literally a museum of 20th century alternative cultures, overflowing with a priceless and cared-for collection of artifacts from the recent past that would certainly blow the minds of millions of people worldwide. All of this chaotic beauty existing secretly in the unfinished basement of an unassuming California house.
Many years and lots of changes later, I was excited to discover that Roger’s son Devin and daughter Kate had begun digitizing and archiving Roger’s vast collection of photos and started an Instagram account called “The Family Acid”—a project that quickly gained a lot of interest and evolved into a coffee-table book. It’s quite a trip to time-travel through the eyes of Roger, who has casually immortalized so many special moments that might have been lost. Candid images of Fela Kuti playing saxophone shirtless in the Steffens living room, of Roger and his daughter with Timothy Leary, double exposures of Roger’s wife in the raw beauty of early-’70s Big Sur, images of Vietnam, the Island of the Coconut Monk … Not only is it a real gift to be presented with such impeccable documentation of fascinating events and people, it’s a truly inspiring window on the world- Roger Steffens has pioneered a long life of social, political and artistic adventuring fueled by an insatiable curiosity and an always fresh engagement with the present moment. These images and the stories they invoke are a testament to the bravery of so many people who took and continue to take risks and explore the boundaries of what we can do with our lives. Find out more.
I caught up with Kate Steffens to ask her a few questions about the project and her life in the Family Acid.
Given that the archives from which you’ve compelled and shared the Family Acid material have been around for so long, what inspired/motivated you to start the process on a public level these past few years?
The impetus to share dad’s photography came after my brother spent a year scanning 40,000 of my dad’s slides. We grew up having family slide shows, but it wasn’t until we had the archive centralized on a computer that I could begin to truly explore the photos and understand how remarkable they are. I initially began the Instagram as an easy way to show our friends and family these photos, but had no idea it would take off like it did. The public response has been extremely validating for my dad, who didn’t take these photos expecting anyone to ever see them.
How do you relate the legendary/heroic/iconic status of so many of the subjects of the pictures given that to you personally they are just your parents’ friends and people you’ve spent time around all your life?
Given the unorthodox way I grew up, an early lesson was that behind every “legend” is a human and most people do not want to be treated very differently than you or me. I suppose it also jaded me a little bit, because fawning displays of affection toward celebrities is sort of anathema to me. When you’re watching a movie in your PJs with your brother and the front door opens and an entire band is there to visit at 11 o’clock at night, you kind of have to let go of any pretense of trying to act cool around famous people.
While there is an obvious historical value to the archive, what really strikes me is the potential of these images and the activities of your family and all the people depicted in the photos to inspire the young people of today to take their interests and experiments further than most of us currently are. It seems like your father is still engaged with the present moment and the joy of living that comes across in the photos is an important message and reminder to the people of today. Can you say a few words about how you all view the current cultural climate through the lens of the Family Acid?
The Family Acid provides me with a daily reminder that you can create your own reality and to some extent, live in a very different way than what current society recommends. Both of my parents grew up in relatively conservative households, and were able to take the important life lessons from that experience, like basic respect toward other humans, and discard what was not working for them, like organized religion. My wish with this project is to inspire people to look beyond hyper-corporatization and personal branding toward a more authentic lifestyle that doesn’t include turning your interests and explorations into a product. These days, the ability to live an artistic life inexpensively is virtually impossible. That said, I connect with people often through this project who are actively attempting to live in alternative ways, and I can only hope that exposing them to our family’s lifestyle inspires more people to reject conformity in favor of curiosity and hope. It is very easy for me to be cynical and angry at the state of the world, so having the perspective of my dad, who was drafted into the Vietnam War and managed to turn his experience around, receiving a Bronze Star for helping refugees, makes me try daily to flip my anger sideways into positive action.
—photo by Roger Steffens