Nathan Farb arrived on the Lower East Side of New York in the mid 1960’s searching for adventure and his Jewish roots. He lamented being “too late for the Beats and too early for the hippies,” but the year after he discovered photography in 1966 he stumbled upon the East Village’s “Summer of Love,” a scene propelled by rock music, drugs, sexual abandon and anti-Vietnam War sentiment.
“Everybody was talking about revolution,” Mr. Farb explained. “But to paraphrase Emma Goldman, I only wanted to be part of a revolution you can dance to.”
Though Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco got more media attention as a hippie haven that summer, there was plenty of free music and free love in Tompkins Square Park, too. Mr. Farb photographed the Grateful Dead and Jim Morrison as well as the East Village’s own Fugs. Gay people were dancing on stage, Mr. Farb said, and blacks, whites and Puerto Ricans were “mixing and making music.” Like many others, he explored his “spiritual side,” experimenting with LSD.
Fifty years later, Mr. Farb has collected his photographs of the “Summer of Love” for a book about his experiences. His images chronicle a significant, and grittier, countercultural youth scene in the East Village.
Songs from 1967.
By 1967 Mr. Farb was refining his craft and shooting six or seven canisters of bulk-loaded film every day. He was influenced by the photographers Robert Frank, Walker Evans and Diane Arbus. In fact, Ms. Arbus makes a cameo appearance in his book dummy as does the poet Tuli Kupferberg of the satirical rock band the Fugs. While romantic flower-power anthems like “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie lured young people to the West Coast, the lyrics of “We are the Fugs” provided the East Village alternative.
Oh we hate war
Oh we love sex
Twos or threes
Fours or fives
Growth for peace
Naked and ready
Poor sad freaks
I met mother fug
So east side
We’re on the east side
And we’re The Fugs!
Mr. Farb was born in Ada, Okla., in 1941, seven months after his father, a Russian immigrant, committed suicide. The only traces left of his life were photo albums his widow put together so her son could learn about his father. Throughout his childhood, Mr. Farb scoured those scrapbooks searching for insight into his father.
“How could I have become anything else but a photographer?” he said.
Mr. Farb moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., when his mother remarried a much older man who was a Modern Orthodox rabbi. While his stepfather studied Hebrew and ancient Greek, Mr. Farb explored the landscape of the Adirondacks. It was while studying psychology at Rutgers University in 1963 that he first went to the Lower East Side to see Lenny Bruce perform. He also rode a motorcycle and supplied pot to his “intellectual friends,” who were “discussing everything from Buddha to Marx to Mailer.”
He briefly worked as a reporter for the New Jersey daily The Bergen Record, then moved to Columbia University’s School of Social Work to do computer programming and computer analysis of the earliest Head Start programs in the country.
The summer of 1967 altered his life and set Mr. Farb on a lifelong path of photography. “It felt like through the camera you could influence the way people saw life and thought about things,” he said.
The free-spirited abandon of that summer came to an abrupt end on Oct. 8th, when a janitor discovered the bodies of James Hutchinson, known as Groovy, 21, and Linda Fitzpatrick, 18, who were murdered in an Avenue B apartment while looking to score LSD. Ms. Fitzpatrick had been sexually assaulted.
By coincidence Mr. Farb had photographed Mr. Hutchinson earlier that same day. The photograph ran on the front page of newspapers around the country, including The New York Daily News, next to a headline “Jail 2, Hunt 2 in Girl Murder.”
And the sub head? “Hippie Killings Inspired by LSD.”
Mr. Farb went on to teach at Rutgers and Parsons, and became a large-format landscape photographer. His books include “The Adirondacks,” “The Russians,” “The Galapagos Islands” and “100 Views of the Adirondacks.” He resides in Jay, N.Y., not far from where he grew up in Lake Placid.
The Summer of Love in the East Village left an indelible mark on Mr. Farb, he explained. “It made me understand that I had to find my own way.”
“It was not so much a revolution as finding a better way to live,” he said, “a way more respectful of each other, and more free than a society driven by money and power.”