At 75 he’s just had his first photography exhibition.
Steffens’ family had been sitting on the photographs, which for decades were only shown at family reunions, until his daughter Kate and son Devon started putting them on Instagram. Peoples responses to the charismatic and historic images was, of course, positive so naturally the next logical step was to curate them into two beautiful artist’s books; The Family Acid and The Family Acid Jamaica. The photographs revel in the inimitable colour and clarity that is unique to film photography. Faces are captured mid-mischief and sagas unfold throughout the generously curated collections that depict Steffens and their crew of gonzo journalists, rastas, activists and acid freaks. It’s a window into a less policed era, when you could still walk on the stones at Stonehenge and Marrakech wasn’t swamped with pink faced tourists.
It could have all turned out pretty differently for Steffens, who was born into a very conservative Catholic family in New Jersey and his life would have continued following that path, that is, until he experienced his first acid trip in 1966. And it was said from that moment on that everything changed.
A psychedelic revelation sounds very cliched, but controlled studies on psychedelic experiences have shown that after dropping a tab, volunteers showed positive changes in their outlook on life; a new appreciation of art and nature; a greater tolerance for fellow human beings and a decline in trust of authoritarian political figures. It’s no wonder that governments so actively cease any research on psychoactive drugs that might yield interesting results.
The 1970s was when reggae began to reach the rest of the world and Steffens was drawn to the source of the music; Jamaica, where he documented the people, live music and unspoiled landscape long before any greedy hoteliers arrived. Though far from being a voyeur, the photographer spent years emceeing at Sunsplash festival, counting Jamaica’s inner circle of artists and producers as close friends. Today, six entire rooms of his house in Los Angeles are given over to his collection of reggae music and cultural ephemera, which recently went on sale.
Comparing the photographs that Steffens has taken of his peers to the many images we’re bombarded with today on Facebook or Instagram, you can see that nobody is showing off and the characters lack ego. Maybe that generation would have expressed the same arrogance had they been offered the same social media platforms we have today. Or maybe social media image sharing bred the goddess-complex attitude that prevails most of our Instagram feeds today. Maybe it’s time for an acid revolution.
You can pick up your copy of The Family Acid and The Family Acid Jamaica from their web shop, here.