Witness the Death of the ’60s in Ken Light’s Era-Defining Photos

The documentary photographer’s early work captures protests, politicians, and everyday life in the early ’70s.

Cambodia Invasion Riot, Columbus, Ohio, 1970<a href="http://www.kenlight.com">Ken Light</a>

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Ken Light’s photos from 1969 to 1974 document the social landscape of America as it frayed at the seams, rife with turmoil. As a young photographer, Light captured the country at this pivotal moment, and his frontline protest photos in Ohio and political images from the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami show the opposite ends of the spectrum.

But the photos that make his new book, American Stories in the Age of Protest, so great are less-familiar ones: the everyday person out waving flags in support of Nixon, the garage band taking to a makeshift stage in support of McGovern, the kids hanging out in West Oakland. It’s photos like these, so common at the time, that gain importance with age. They give contour and meaning to historical projects such as this.

Having already published seven books with the likes of Aperture, Smithsonian, and the University of California Press, Light took matters into his own hands for this project, launching a Kickstarter to fund the book. With other noted, well-published photographers (like Eugene Richards) successfully crowdfunding book projects, it appears to be a win-win for folks like Light: get more people interested and involved in the projects and maintain more control over the finished product.

All photos from the book What’s Going On? 1969-1974, by Ken Light.

Nixon Rally, Inauguration, 1973
 

Detention, High School, 1971
 

Teenager, Columbus, Ohio, 1971
 

DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, 1972
 

Free Concert, Athens, Ohio, 1969
 

Vietnam Moratorium, Washington, DC, 1969
 
 

 

McGovern Rally, Southeast Ohio, 1972
 

Boy Scout, Nixon Inauguration, 1973
 

Ohio State Penitentiary, Columbus, Ohio
 

Return of the POWs, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1973
 

West Oakland, California, 1974
 

Nixon Resigns, Oakland, California, 1974
 

Photographer Ken Light, 1972, Republican National Convention, Miami
 

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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