the Larry Keenan
Interview

by Bill Ectric
Photographer Larry Keenan was there to chronicle the
great transition from the "Beat Generation"  to the
"Hippie Generation"  - taking pictures of artists,
musicians, and scene-makers like Allen Ginsberg, Neal
Cassady, Bob Dylan, Michael McClure, Timothy Leary, Ken
Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
and more. Many of these photos are in the permanent
collection of the Archives of American Artists in the
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  That's
enough to make me a big fan, but Keenan has done
much more.
He is called a "digital pioneer" in the Random House book Digital Photography and has
produced a line of Fractal greeting cards. He was featured on the PBS television program
Computer Chronicles digitizing and creating the award winning package cover of Deluxe
PhotoLab for Electronic Arts using the Amiga 2000 computer system. His photographs are in
museums and private collections throughout the world.
Keenan has received numerous awards and his
photographs have appeared in ad campaigns, corporate
and professional publications, CD and record albums,
books, magazines, and software packages.

On top of all that, and to my delight, he is friendly and
easy to talk to.

Bill Ectric: How old were you when you started taking
photographs?

Larry Keenan: I started in the 7th grade. In those days,
I wanted to be a cartoonist and/or animator.  My
grandfather made me an animation box with the
backlight, etc. I drew all the frames for my 3-minute
movie.  I used my parents 8mm movie camera to film
each frame.  It worked the film was in real animation.  
My parents took us to the opening of Disneyland that
summer.  While we were down there, my dad had a
friend who knew guy in Disney's orchestra.  He arranged
for me to take a private tour to visit the Disney
Studios.  There, I met some unhappy animators, who all
told me to do something else.  They told me that they
were all trapped into doing only their specialty, which
might be:  water, clouds, trees, flowers, etc.  They told
me there was no variety.   When I got back home a
painter at my parent's remodeled kitchen used to work
at DC Comics.  He was not encouraging either. I needed
variety and I already knew what being trapped was like,
living at home. I ended up charging my friends a buck a
signature and began signing report cards using my
animation box.  My first still images were underwater
photos I shot with a camera I bought and I used an
underwater case I had made for it while in the 9th
grade.
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Above: Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg,
photographed by Larry Keenan in 1965
Above: Photographer Larry Keenan
in Washington, DC for the The
Smithsonian's National Portrait
Gallery exhibit, "REBELS: Beat
Artists and Poets of the 1950s."
Photo by Lisa Keenan
Above: Larry says, "In the Los Altos
Hills, in 1969, I was shooting a session
with some medical students from
Stanford and the Sexual Freedom
League illustrating a Ken Kesey project.
The basic premise was that the doctors
spend all their time at school and in
hospitals and are not exposed to the
free life in the real world. Kesey felt
that they were losing their sensitivity.
This unknown old man walked in and
sat down on the bench among some
people sitting around. Suddenly they
all got up, took off their clothes and
danced around him. He refused to
remove his clothes even when the
women pulled at them. Everyone kept
asking 'Who is that old man?' "
Above: Artist Bruce Conner in 1965 and 2005,
photographed by Larry Keenan
Bill Ectric:  How did you get involved with photographing the beats, hippies, and other
counter culture icons?

Larry Keenan: I had Michael McClure for a teacher at California College of Arts & Crafts.  
After taking a couple of classes with him, I had great respect for his amazing knowledge and
intelligence. I was doing a project with a few friends at school and it was going to be
published.  I got involved with the project because I wanted a real published piece in my
portfolio.  A lot of the hypothetical crap in everyone's portfolio at school was pretty bad.  
Because my parents had disinherited me for going to art school (although they supported
me in it) I had a real drive to make it, to be the best I could be.  I asked Michael to be our
faculty sponsor for our project and he said "yes."  We met at his house in the Haight in 1964.

After the meeting, while we were going out Michael asked me if I would like to photograph
some of his friends.  I asked him who his friends were and he answered with a list that
included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kesey, Conner, etc.
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