Cover story


April 8, 2011

Robert Altman’s photographs have appeared in galleries, books and magazines such as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, People Magazine and more. One of his latest projects has been the coffee table photography book titled, The Sixties (Santa Monica Press).

Images captured on film, in a moment, have left behind a reminder of who we were, where we were, and what was going on at a time when life seemed rebellious while youth was also searching for peace and understanding through a turmoil of unrest.

Arriving in San Francisco during the late sixties found Robert and a friend made an impulse decision to take an apartment on a beautiful hilltop in Bernal Heights. “Spur of the moment decisions has been part of man’s story arc time immemorial,” said Robert. “That being said “people in motion” was also one of the tonal chords of the 60s. Psychopharmacology certainly opened my generation up to alternative choices. The stricture that you had to stay in the same neighborhood as your family, decade after decade, cracked open forever.

We were all part of LBJ’s “Great Society.” The perks included sharing apartments in New York or large Victorian flats in San Francisco. Rent was cheap, jobs were available if you wanted one and food stamps were abundant if you got hungry. There was plenty to be had in the land of plenty.”

Indeed the 60s were a generation of overturning the old and getting a foothold on the new. Robert seemed to have a natural motivation to capture these moments on film. “Steve Jobs stated emphatically, “LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.”

For me, marijuana was the Genie that opened me up. I experienced the possibility that you could be anything you want this time around. That was happening concomitantly to so many others of my generation. We got that we were part of this great new club,” remembers Robert.

“So we created club regalia…long hair, colorful clothes, VW Vans and bugs, you name it. We created common gathering spots to be with each other to talk, play music, demonstrate in the streets, learn cool stuff and take the first steps on spiritual journeys. This was beyond exciting, it was intoxicating. With a desire to pursue the arts I migrated toward photography. I had to capture all the excitement, the euphoria, the parade.”

Looking through the book, The Sixties, the heightened emotions of those times can be experienced through Robert’s images as if you were there. There was a great deal going on in every corner of society and for Robert it was a time that included every aspect of life. “It was all good,” said Robert. Quoting from the 50’s movie The Wild One, “What are you rebelling against? (Pause) Marlon Brando, “What ya got?”

Robert Altman knows what inspires a great photograph that connects the time and emotions to the image itself. “A great photograph is colorful, well composed, arresting. It tells an entire story captured in one frozen moment, within the frame,” explains Robert. “It speaks to the viewer in an uncommon way. Photography is unique as a medium. I’ve never seen a still photograph and then viewed moving film footage of the same subject that were at all alike. Strange, isn’t it?”
‘The Sixties’ is a photography book that will take many on a journey of peace, love, protest and rock and roll. People are drawn to the generation of changing times and its message.

“I’ll jump ahead from the usual advances that occurred when we rhapsodize about the 60s, advances like the environment, woman’s lib, stopping the Viet Nam War, civil rights and gay rights …and I’ll jump to one future scope it impacted enormously…the digital age,” said Robert. “The whole open source, file-sharing culture was begat from the 60’s meme…that is, folks sharing things freely with each other and not particularly for gain. You can follow that trail of personal computing to social networking which is changing the planet explosively in the Middle East as we speak.”

It was indeed a generation that moved away from reinventing the wheel to shaping its own style, society, culture, music and life. “The 60s was dynamic, seminal, colorful, musical, fun, sometimes painful, global and most of all and especially… original,” said Robert.

“It all came together as if ordained. The right elements colluded and collided which then rocked society’s foundation and caused a shift in collective human behavior. Everyone felt it and was touched by it to some extent. A lot of the rules were rewritten.”

Robert Altman captured “the time of the season” on film and is pleased. “It feels wonderful. I was blessed with a gift and thankfully, I had a passion to get it on film whether I was assigned to do it or not. It was never about the money, ever,” he said. “That being said…things change. There is an old saw that was originated with Churchill, “If you haven’t rebelled by the time you’re twenty you have no heart. If you haven’t profited with the establishment by the time you’re thirty, you have no brains.”

These days I do tend to the business end of photography.” Current projects with other events and plans in the works keep Robert at a fast pace with his photographic images. “I recently completed an exhibit at Macy’s Herald Square in New York where we filled all their windows with over 100 pieces of my work. They called it, “Art Under Glass.”

I also wrapped up a very successful exhibit in London and was part of Keith Richards magnificent autobiography. I just gave the keynote graduation address at the Digital Media Arts College and was presented an honorary doctorate. We are traveling an exhibit that just completed a six month run at the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods. I am in discussion with Santana’s people regarding merging some of my work with his Men's Fashion.

Thankfully, there’s always something exciting out there. Photography and the iPad are a natural fit, the next adventure!”

For more information about Robert Altman and his incredible photo images - The Sixties, Photographs By Robert Altman (Santa Monica Press) is available at most area bookstores and

Original magazine article


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