William Gedney Presents:

Gallery 5: Notebooks and Writings

October 1966 to January 1967

Contents (of this page):

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Title: Photographs by William Gedney from San Francisco as they relate to the group The Diggers, including contact sheets, notebook images, and proofs. Citation: William Gedney photographs and papers, 1887, circa 1920, 1940-1998 and undated, bulk 1955-1989, Collection #RL.10032, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.


When I first discovered Gedney's photography archive in 2002, one of the bonuses was that the Duke librarians had scanned many of the small notebooks that the artist carried with him to jot down the particulars of each photo shoot. So for example, here is a page from one of the notebooks in 1966, after he had received the Guggenheim Fellowship and set off on his cross-country trek. On August 25, 1966, Gedney was at the Iowa State Fair. You can see how diligent he was in recording the roll of film he was shooting (TX, for Tri-X, roll #178) and the camera settings (aperture and shutter speed).

After discovering the recent batch of scanned prints that Duke had processed since I last visited in 2017, it has been a special treat to connect Gedney's notebook jottings with these higher resolution images. (See below under "Notebooks" for a dip into this exercise of archival consanguinity. In addition to his detailed jottings of camera and location settings, Gedney also was an incessant scribbler, jotting down excerpts and quotes from books he had read and the lyrics of popular songs. Under the "Writings" category (below) is an example that is pertinent to the Diggers and Gedney's musings on the meaning of the events he was witnessing.

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The first encounter that Gedney had with the burgeoning youth culture was the Artists Liberation Free Fair in the parking lot next to Glide Memorial Church on October 9, 1966. (The fair was a two-day affair. Gedney got there on Sunday, the second day.) Here are a few of his photos that depict the joyful abandon that would come to typify outdoor gatherings of the Sixties. See here for more.

A month lapses before we find Gedney again in the midst of the happenings and street activity. I have not been able to locate his photos of the Avalon Ballroom, but his series of photos at Tracy's Donut Shop is extensive. Here are a handful. See here for more.

The first evidence of Gedney's encounters with the Diggers is on November 12, 1966 at one of the first Digger Free Feeds in the Panhandle. We see many of the original group that coalesced rapidly after Emmett and Billy first brought Digger stew to the intersection of Oak and Ashbury streets in the midst of the National Guard occupation of San Francisco the first week of October. Here are a few of these photos. See here for more.

On November 15, 1966, two vice cops busted Allen Cohen who was working the cash register at the Psychedelic Shop on the grounds of selling obscene material Lenore Kandel's Love Book. The subesequent trial was the longest criminal proceeding in San Francisco history and catapulted the new bohemian community that was coalescing in the Haight-Ashbury into action. Gedney happened to be on Haight Street as the community reacted immediately to the arrests. Here are a few of this series (most of which has not been printed and scanned yet). See here for more.

After Gedney took a side trip to southern California he arrived back in San Francisco at the beginning of January, 1967. Here we see notes on the series of photographs he took at 778 Clayton Street, one of the Digger pads that would become famous in the coming months. We see photos of several of the mainstays to the early Digger movement, including Phyllis and John John. See here for more.

Gedney doesn't seem to have any photos of the first Digger Free Store on Page Street, which was named the "Free Frame of Reference" and which opened in November but he did visit the second one which was located on Frederick Street. He was there for the "diggers movie night" on Jan. 7, 1967 (as noted above). Here are some photos from that event. See here for more photos from the Frederick St free store.

Gedney appears to have come back the next day (January 8, 1967) to continue taking photos of the second Digger Free Store at 520 Frederick Street. Interestingly he notates one of the Diggers in his jottings, "Eugene Grogen" (sic) which is possibly how Emmett Grogan was introducing himself to strangers. Here are some of Gedney's photos where Emmett appears. And here are more photos from the Frederick St free store.

On January 14, 1967, the "Human Be-In / Gathering of the Tribes" took place in Golden Gate Park at the Polo Field and Bill Gedney was there and took hundreds of photographs. What I find particularly interesting is that Gedney's lens was focused on the crowds and not the stage. The Be-In (as it came to be known) would become the model for communal and collective counterculture celebrations in the coming decade. Compare these photos with those from the Kaliflower Intercommunal Carnival five years later to get a sense of the cultural evolution that took place in that short span of time. Click here for more photos of the Be-In. Click here for the Kaliflower Intercommunal Carnival in 1972 to compare and contrast the two celebrations.

The final listing of photos that Gedney shot in the Haight-Ashbury was the night of the Human Be-In on the streets. I'm not completely sure if the following are from that series but it seems likely they are.

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Scattered in and among Bill Gedney's exacting notes on film speed, exposure settings, and details on people and places are jottings he wrote down of his thoughts on what he was experiencing. He also used his notebooks to record song lyrics and quotations he had read. Here is a sequence he wrote in 1967 after visiting and immersing himself in the burgeoning youth culture that was emerging in the Haight-Ashbury. Note the place of importance he gives to the Diggers ("the diggers perhaps represent the true meaning of the movement..."). Interestingly, this quote appeared in the 2000 book of his photographs in the chapter on San Francisco. However, no where in that book nor on the Duke University web site was there ever any recognition on the part of the curators that Gedney had borne witness through his lens to the birth of the Digger social movement that would have ripple effects throughout radical history in the coming decades.


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The Digger Archives is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Cite As: The Digger Archives (www.diggers.org) / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / All other uses must receive permission. Contact: curator at diggers dot org.