return to articles
Book review: What’s Going On? 1969-1974
Ken Light

Ken Light was there. During the social upheaval of the late 60s and early 70s, a teenager took up a Pentax camera with a 50 mm lens and started aiming it at the changes going on. He was a young man with an uncommon amount of courage; covering a corrupt union election, plunging into clouds of tear gas to photograph rioters and police.

Ken Light’s book, What’s Going On? 1969-1974, captures the full experience of that era, corresponding with the years of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The book opens with a photograph suggesting the innocence and complacency that preceded the changes - young people sunbathing on Jones Beach, Long Island. Urban and rural Scenes from around the country show the building tension in the faces of Americans. A candid portrait of a solemn aged veteran carrying the American flag is followed by a shot of Hubert Humphrey caught in a contemplative moment. Then the protests and the riots.

Light captured photos of John Kerry, Jerry Rubin, George McGovern, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Timothy Leary, John Lennon. However, the real story is read in the faces of Hare Krishna members, Black Panthers, factory workers, strikers, high school kids, rural poor. This is an important book. If it had contained photographs collected from many photographers, it would have been impressive. That this is the work of a single young photojournalist is absolutely remarkable.

The 12” x 11½” book is a well laid out cloth covered hardbound volume with 140 photographs on 190 pages. Light lets the photographs tell the story, placing all text at the end of the book. In the text, Light tells his own story. The book ends with a helpful timeline listing events from President Nixon’s inauguration in January 1969, through his resignation in August of 1974.

What's Going On? 1969-1974 is available at squareup.com/market/kenlight-photo.

- David Garnick

Ken Light has worked as a freelance documentary photographer for forty years, focusing on social issues facing America. His work has been published in nine books, has appeared in numerous photo essays in newspapers, magazines and a variety of media, and presented in exhibitions worldwide. His work has appeared in numerous magazines including, Rolling Stone, Granta, Time, Newsweek, Mother Jones, and The National Journal. He is the Reva and David Logan Professor of Photojournalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley.