Lisa Law is a photographer and filmmaker whose work focuses on the counterculture era of the sixties and seventies. Her collections focus on famous icons, events such as Woodstock, tribal culture, and groups of people.
Her focus on photography began with her connection to the California music scene in the sixties, which enabled her to photograph artists like Janis Joplin and The Beatles.
I will discuss her Woodstock collection, which is part of a permanent exhibit at the Bethel Woods Museum of Woodstock.
This collection focuses much more on the overall crowd and scenery than it does on individual attendees or even the artists that she previously had opportunities to photograph. However, in her other collections such as Music Legends she focuses much more heavily on individual subjects.
In her Woodstock collection, Law frequently uses bird’s eye view. This composition technique serves to show the massiveness of Woodstock from above. Without using this, it would be difficult to adequately represent the sheer numbers of attendance. Additionally, it creates a sense of unity among the massive crowd, which is a common trend among descriptions of the festival from those who attended.
Law also uses low tonal contrast in much of her coverage of Woodstock. For example, this image “Free Kitchen Food Lines at Hog Farm Camp” has very little variation when it comes to the color scheme. This is likely due to her previous experience with black and white photography. Many of her early collections were in black and white, so it makes sense that she would transition into using low tonal contrast.
The style of photography in this collection seems to be heavily influenced by Law’s experience working as a documentary filmmaker. The candid, long range shot of crowds and scenery definitely fits into the straightforward, realist style featured in many documentaries.
In addition to her style being influenced by experience with documentaries, her choice of subject material at Woodstock was influenced by her involvement with Hog Farm, the group that worked to feed countless festival attendees. An example of this includes the image “Hog Farm Kitchen, Woodstock festival 1969” which utilizes framing to focus the picture around the women cooking.
In the collection, Law includes multiple blurred and obstructed images in addition to clear ones. This choice hs a unique effect within the collection, drawing attention away from specific subjects, and more towards the ambiance and mood of the setting.
In her coverage of Woodstock, Law utilizes many photographic techniques, in addition to breaking certain photographic rules to create a collection that shows another side of the festival, in comparison to journalistic photographers and those who focused purely on photographing the performers. She realistically covered the average scenes of the festival, instead of attempting to create a fantastical version. This style works well because Woodstock was already an exceptional event, and did not need any more enhancement through photo manipulation or significant color contrast. Her style allows viewers to truly understand the spirit of the festival, with no frills needed.