This project is not about the Grateful Dead.
There are no "live" pictures that focus specifically on band members either in con cert or as formal or informal portraits. Rather, this collection of photographs is an attempt to document the experiences of those who choose to call ourselves "Deadheads." Many of us followed the Grateful Dead on tour for many years and were a part of the community that was created in the process. As a work for and about Deadheads, my photographs attempt to document the sights, sounds, and scenes Deadheads all over the country have experienced as they followed the band. It is an attempt to document and define what it means to be a Deadhead.
On a personal level, during the decade that I have been working on this project, trying to place myself within the work became its most challenging aspect. As a Deadhead, I always wanted to enjoy shows and hang out with my friends and extended family, but as a documentary photographer a nd journalist, I was constantly trying to capture that experience to show how it challenges traditional definitions of family and community within a broader social context. However, this conflict worked to my advantage, for over the years I allowed my photographs to flow naturally, giving them a vitality and energy reminiscent of the music itself. And so I learned an important lesson: When the images were forced, the results were usually flat and uninspired, occasionally disastrous. But when I allowed the work to "proceed by its own design," the results could be stunning, even magical.
This is not simply a series of "pretty pictures" from tour that remain uncritical and devoid of editorial comment. Indeed, during the last few years of tour, there was a darker side to the experience. An onslaught of new, more rowdy fans infiltrated the scene and threatened the vitality of the community. I have not avoided these issues in this work, but rather have attempted to capture them with as much emotion as with some of the "happier" images. At times, however, such images were simply not to be. At Deer Creek on July 2nd,1995, nature literally called, and I was in the bathroom when thousands of gate crashers jumped the fence during "Desolation Row." I rarely ever went to the bathroom during the first set, and I decided that I was simply not meant to have images of this "riot." The work had decided on its own that this was not what it was about, and sent me away from my perch on the lawn, just 20 yards from the fence line.
In a similar vein, it was during the first encore at the last show in Chicago, as Jerry Garcia sang his last song--a prophetic version of the ballad "Black Muddy River"--that I was able to capture an image that I had been trying to catch for more than five years. So the magic flowed in both directions, it was simply a question of allowing myself to trust the images and where they came from and to realized that I was nearly a vehicle for them, and not them for me.
The music of the Grateful Dead and the culture grown up around it has brought people together for thirty years and forged friendships that transcend region, class, and time. I admit that my photographs celebrate Deadhead culture for what I consider its revolutionary and disruptive potential. Deadheads challenge the world as it is; their community is based on love for each other and love for the music. So I bring these photographs to you as a way of giving back something of what I've taken away. I do so with love and trust and for your personal enjoyment. I have no objections to people downloading an image to put on the fridge or on the bulletin board by the computer. I don't even mind if you make tape covers out of them (feel free to send me a set!), as long as they are for non-commercial, personal use and the enjoyment of you and your friends. This web site and all of the photographs are fully protected by copyright law. Don't rip them off.