#LightBoxFF: Roger Steffens and "The Waltons on Acid"

4 minute read

Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Each week we will introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.

This week on #LightBoxFF, TIME speaks to Kate Steffens, curator of the Instagram account @thefamilyacid, which features over 40 years of her father’s — counterculture photographer Roger Steffens — slide photography.

LightBox: What is The Family Acid, and how did these images end up on Instagram?

Kate Steffens: We’ve had friends refer to our family as “The Waltons on Acid,” meaning that we are a happy, functioning family unit, who happen to live an extremely counterculture lifestyle. My brother Devon and I grew up surrounded by rastas, beatniks, musicians, gonzo journalists, and an ever-revolving cast of eccentric characters. Through our father’s work in the music industry, as children we traveled all over the world, from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

My dad always took photographs, but only really started documenting his life when he was drafted into the Vietnam War. Dad’s IQ and typing speed saved him from being sent to frontline combat, and instead he ended up in Psychological Operations. He founded a refugee campaign, for which he was awarded a bronze star, and his commanding officer ordered him to document all his projects, so he had free film and developing for the next two years. This began a lifelong love of photography.

In 2012, my brother spent a year scanning my father’s over 40,000 slides dating from the late 1960s through the 1990s. Once the scanning was done, we went through the archive and realized just how incredible his photography was. I considered doing a web site, but didn’t know how to successfully promote it, so instead turned to Instagram as a means to gain a wider audience. Within a couple of months, we had a huge positive response.

LightBox: What other outlets did your father have for showing/sharing work before Instagram? How is Instagram different and what does it provide that other methods of showing work don’t?

Kate Steffens: In my lifetime, my father has been mostly known for his work within the reggae music industry, and has written six books about Bob Marley and reggae history. His reggae photographs have been published all over the world, but the photos we show on The Family Acid have not been seen by anyone outside our immediate family. Through Instagram, we’ve been able to share his work and life with people all over, for free, and have made some incredible real-world connections. Doing this project has enabled us to document our family’s history for posterity, with the added bonus of engaging with a community that truly appreciates the photography.

LightBox: Have you ever curated your father’s work before and if so how is this different? Do you have a background in photography?

Kate Steffens: I have not curated my father’s work before, but I did study 35mm photography in both high school and college. My father taught me how to take a proper double exposure, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

LightBox: Which photo has inspired the most audience feedback and engagement through likes and comments and why do you think that photo received the attention?

Kate Steffens: There are a few subjects that repeatedly appear in my father’s photographs that seem to really resonate with people. The Coconut Monk and his island of pacifists, deserters from both sides of the Vietnam War living in peace in the middle of the Mekong Delta. Hippie life and nature in Big Sur and Mendocino, especially the double and triple exposures. Humorous graffiti and the unusual and artistic billboards that flourished along Sunset Boulevard in the 1970s. Personal, candid shots of some of the incredible people he’s encountered, from Fela Kuti to Ken Kesey.

Roger Steffens is best known as a photographer of counterculture and an archivist of reggae music, in particular that of Bob Marley.

Michelle Molloy is a Senior Photo Editor for TIME.

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