In 1969 Roberta Price was a teaching fellow and Ph D. student in the graduate English Department at SUNY Buffalo working under Leslie Fiedler. She got a faculty fund grant to travel west in the summer to explore and photograph communes that had begun to spring up in New Mexico and Colorado. Over the next eight years she took more than 3,000 photos of commune life, and now she has selected 121 of those images for publication in a visual memoir that reflects her experiences and invites us to contemplate the rural counterculture of her youth.
Unlike most photographers of the back to the land movement, Price “went native,” joining Libre, a Colorado community of artists and writers, and she lived there for almost seven years. Her photo record of her time in the Huerfano Valley provides a unique view of commune life through the eyes of a participant. We see residents build homes, raise families, and celebrate community.
Price’s images of Drop City, New Buffalo, Reality Construction Company, Libre, the Red Rockers and other southwestern communes provide visual evidence of the great divide that separated Price and others of her generation from the families and conventional communities in which they had grown up. They are an eyewitness report of a phenomenal energy -- youthful energy manifested in the work, art, architecture, and play of the participants in some of the rural communities, and the societal energy in the cultural forces swirling up in that period. Iconoclasts such as Ken Kesey, Wavy Gravy, and Peter Orlovsky pass through, but the focus on the book is the day to day life of the members.
Across the Great Divide: A Photo Chronicle of the Counterculture was published by the University of New Mexico Press in Fall, 2010. The book has an introduction by George Miles, William Robertson Coe Curator, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Short essays by Roberta Price accompany one hundred and thirty black and white and color photographs of the back to the land movement in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.
Praise for Across the Great Divide:
With these 121 photographs, Price offers a guided tour of the communities and communes--places like the Red Rockers, Drop City, Reality Construction Company--that sprang up in New Mexico and Colorado in the late 1960s and early '70s. Price's understated, almost journalistic foray is lit by warmth, humor, and the abundant tenderness of her subjects; the photographs function as part family album (Price herself called a commune her home for seven years), part countercultural slide show, part lesson in American history. The photos--in both color and black and white--depict commune life: colorfully painted buses, naked babies, long-haired men, bearded musicians, countercultural icons passing through, vegetable gardens, all set against the dramatic southwestern horizon. If at first glimpse, these images appear as familiar images of hippie culture, a closer look reveals nuance and idiosyncrasy. Characters recur, a story begins to emerge, and the work unfurls into a profound exploration that touches on ethnography.
The written and visual narrative largely follows the themes Price elegantly and honestly developed in her earlier volume [Huerfano]. Living in a commune was hard work, filled with constant tensions—demonstrated self-reliance augmented by the need to obtain food stamps—and the challenge of living with other people. While she did not see Libre as a permanent home, she committed herself to the lifestyle and the larger community. Unlike the nearby Red Rocks Commune, where everyone lived in a single large geodesic dome, each domestic arrangement in Libre (a couple, a family, or a solitary sojourner) lived in a stand-alone dwelling, required to be built out of sight of neighbors. The current members of Libre voted to admit or reject each newcomer. While some Wet Mountain Valley locals remember the “hippies” as a throng of invaders, in Price’s work relations with the locals varied, but Price considers them to have been mostly supportive.