Irwin Klein & the New Settlers: Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico

Irwin Klein & the New Settlers: Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico

Irwin Klein & the New Settlers: Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico

Irwin Klein & the New Settlers: Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico


Dropouts, renegades, utopians. Children of the urban middle class and old beatniks living alone, as couples, in families, or as groups in the small Nuevomexicano towns. When photographer Irwin Klein began visiting northern New Mexico in the mid-1960s, he found these self-proclaimed New Settlers--and many others--in the back country between Santa Fe and Taos. His black-and-white photographs captured the life of the counterculture's transition to a social movement. His documentation of these counterculture communities has become well known and sought after for both its sheer beauty and as a primary source about a largely undocumented group.

By blending Klein's unpublished work with essays by modern scholars, Benjamin Klein (Irwin's nephew) creates an important contribution to the literature of the counterculture and especially the 1960s. Supporting essays emphasize the importance of a visual record for interpreting this lifestyle in the American Southwest. Irwin Klein and the New Settlers reinforces the photographer's reputation as an astute observer of back-to-the-land, modern-day Emersonians whose communes represented contemporary Waldens.


Daniel Kosharek

I first encountered Irwin Klein’s photographs while flipping through Benjamin Klein and Tim Hodgdon’s article in the winter 2012 issue of the New Mexico Historical Review. the much-abused word attached to hippie culture, “flashback,” was an appropriate metaphor to describe the experience. Those of a certain vintage are instantly transported back to a time when large circles of friends were united in the effort to be free of “the man,” whoever he was, to do their own thing, and to live a life of wonder, preferably out in the country. Unfortunately, most people who lived during that time were too busy enjoying the freedom of the times to take photographs documenting those heady days. Thankfully, a handful of people like Klein spent those years thoughtfully observing and capturing on film the life of the counterculture. As a photo archivist I could only wish we had this body of work in our holdings, not only to provide access but also to preserve as historical records.

Irwin Klein used his camera to tell stories. Looking at his photographs today is to feel your shirt sticking to your back from doing hot field work, to look into the eyes of someone who shared your philosophy of life, and perhaps your communal bed, and to smell the smoke from cooking fires and pot. These are more than simple snapshots of the countercultural scene. With the eye of a true ethnographer, Klein offers insight into the world of the new setters, recording their daily lives and communal celebrations as they occurred. the result is a departure from the carnival-like atmosphere that pervades much of the photography from the 1960s and 1970s.

Ironically, we often look at the sixties through rose-colored glasses. Life in northern New Mexico was difficult, especially for those who had fled the cities and suburbs. Hunger, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancies, differences in philosophy, and a lack of money dogged the new settlers. Klein pulls no punches in his images of northern . . .

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