From the desk of Benjamin Klein

Klein_jacket.inddThe following contribution is from Benjamin Klein, editor of Irwin Klein and the New Settlers: Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico (June 2016). Benjamin Klein, Irwin’s nephew, teaches European and world history at California State University, East Bay. His articles on the counterculture have appeared in the New Mexico Historical Review and Casa Vogue

When my late uncle Irwin Klein first came to El Rito, a Hispaño village located at the edge of Carson National Forest, in 1966, the “great hippie migration” to northern New Mexico was underway.  Before the end of the decade hundreds of “dropouts, renegades, and utopians,” in Klein’s words, and the “children of the urban middle class” had made their way to the region. While some of these new arrivals settled in El Rito, Vallecitos, Dixon, and Taos, others went to live at New Buffalo, Magic Tortoise, Five Star, and other communes. Northern New Mexico figured prominently on the countercultural map. Wavy Gravy announced the establishment of the Hog Farm commune at Llaño from the stage at Woodstock in August 1969. Easy Rider (1969) introduced audiences to the burgeoning scene when the two protagonists, Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy the Kid (Dennis Hopper) visit an unnamed commune near Taos on their ill-fated journey across the United States. The cover story for Rolling Stone for July 9, 1970 proclaimed it the “Summer of New Mexico.”

Klein made several visits to the Southwest, spending a few months at a time, documenting the scene in Rio Arriba, Taos, and Mora counties, before returning to New York City where he lived. He went to northern New Mexico, as he put it, with much the same motives as the people [he] photographed.” Klein, however, never completely dropped out. One friend described him as more of “an observer and documenter” of the scene than active participant in the scene.  Nevertheless, he has provided us with an enduring visual record of the counterculture in northern New Mexico, using his camera to record the daily activities of the new settlers as well as their rituals and celebrations. We can see this in the images of a young woman chopping wood in Mora and the wedding feast at New Buffalo.




His photos of the girl and adobe brick makers reflect the influence of Dorothy Lange, Walker Evans, and other photographers associated with the Farm Security Agency.







Klein’s images occupy a unique space between historical documentation and artistic photography. “I have proceeded slowly, rather than in a journalistic fashion,” he wrote, “and tried to enter into the time, space, and light which envelopes [sic] my subjects, basing my work, whenever possible on long-term acquaintances and participation.” “I never took pictures of people who weren’t conscious that I was there,” Klein once explained, “but the trick was to be invisible all the same.”




Klein selected eighty photographs, which he tried to publish along with an introduction. Unfortunately, he never found a publisher for “New Settlers of Northern New Mexico.” More than forty years after Klein’s death in Brooklyn in 1974, his photo essay will be published for the first time in its entirety.

7 thoughts on “From the desk of Benjamin Klein

  1. Brings it all back. It’s strange; after all these years, when I see a group photo (of New Buffalo, say) ALL those faces and phases look familiar. I could walk right into those pictures and feel at home again. They’re my people. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Pam, your comments do such a great job of describing my feelings! I lived in Cerrillos (no commune, though) & cooked on a wood cookstove, had an outhouse–all the usual. In 1996 I wrote my master’s thesis on “The Genderization of the Counterculture” & used 8 oral history interviews to support the ideas of the thesis. Of late, I’m wanting to expand the work of the thesis & conduct more oral history interviews because the women’s counterculture history is needing much more coverage. WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO CONTACT ME about a possible oral history–assuming that you were a counterculturist (based on your comments here!). It would be great to hear your remembrances, and to meet you! Please feel free to contact me at: Thanks! Cate Fitzmaurice-Torres, Sapello, New Mexico

  2. I’m familiar with a number of photographers who took photos during this time in NM. I like Irwin’s the best by far. Of course, most of us would have never dreamed of owning a camera back then!

    1. Hello Miriam: I am Cate Fitzmaurice-Torres & was a participant in the Sixties counterculture in New Mexico during the time that Klein’s work was being done. I’m also a historian & my 1996 master’s thesis concerned the “Genderization of the Counterculture” wherein I interviewed 8 women who were friends & fellow counterculturists from 1968-1973. I’m now expanding on my thesis & I’m looking for women to interview who contributed to the counterculture–women’s history of this era is in need of much more work, & I’m very interested in doing more oral history on the subject. WOULD BE WILLING to participate in my oral history project on being a woman in the counterculture? Please feel free to contact me at: Thanks so much!

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