Nacio Jan Brown

For a period of ten years, beginning in the mid-1960s, Nacio Jan Brown photographed virtually all of the major anti-war and social protest movement activities in the Bay Area. His photographs were published widely in the "underground" press of the times. Since the 1960's his photographs have been published in many books, magazines, and newspapers worldwide, including art historian Peter Selz's recent book, The Art of Engagement, where a number of his photographs appear. His photographs have also been exhibited in a number of museums and galleries, including the M.H. de Young Museum, Focus Gallery, the Ansel Adams Friends of Photography Gallery in San Francisco, the University Art Museum in Berkeley, and most recently, at the Berkeley Art Center as part of their exhibit The Whole World's Watching. Recently the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his photographs for their permanent collection.

In 1975 he published the book, Rag Theater, which documented street life on the 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley from 1969 to 1973. The publication was partially funded by pre-publication subscription whereby collectors reserved for themselves a copy of the signed limited edition (300 copies) hard-cover version of the book along with a silver gelatin print made and signed by the photographer. Among the purchasers of this limited edition were the Metropolitan Museum of Art, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, and many private collectors. This edition of Rag Theater was exhibited by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) in its 1975 "Fifty Books" exhibition. The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco exhibited thirteen images from the book and the University Art Museum in Berkeley exhibited all of the images.




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Rag Theater: The 2400 Block of Telegraph Avenue, 1969-1973
Photographs by Nacio Jan Brown, Foreword by Thomas Farber

Excerpt from the "Foreword," Rag Theater, by Thomas Farber

"Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, late October, 1971, already late in the day, and still time passes, Berkeley mean time, hard and fast time, sidereal time, time for the sidewalk stars and bizarres, wonder-where-they-are-now time, and think what has come down, think what it has come down to, think that it has come down to this.

Nightfall approaches, street lights switch on to dispel the early gloom, and at this lost hour the Avenue is a concrete stage diminished for want of players. Viewed from the window of a second floor apartment across from the Caffé Mediterraneum, little in the deserted block below indicates the turmoil of its history, the lives that have peopled, the people who have lived, this street…

Of those who find the Avenue a refuge or simply a good place to bottom out, most, whatever their backgrounds, are beneficiaries and casualties of dreams and nightmares peculiar—at least in degree—to Berkeley life. One habitué of the Caffé Mediterraneum, for example, a professed revolutionary, is supported by the State of California's Aid to the Totally Disabled. In flusher times, having angled hard to win the monthly payments, he believed he was ripping off the system. Now, revolution apparently ever more remote, he fears he was bought off for a paltry two hundred dollars a month. Or, worse, that A.T.D. was designed for, among other lunatics, beneficiaries imagining themselves to be leftists waiting for imminent revolution…

On days marked by long shots and hedged bets, when the prevailing myths are clearly too frail to offer further sustenance, when denizens of the Mediterraneum seem no more than exiles from the larger culture, then the junkies are all too visible a portent of what's to come. One looks for anything to counterbalance them, if only for the small pleasure of a conceptual alternative. Ah, sure, the children. Hope of the future. Vindication of the past. Those for whom life is still open, those who are sure to turn a profit on our losses…

Nacio Jan Brown's photographs stop time and record this circle of life he knows so well, saving it from the too-quick and too-dead past for us to view with new eyes. Yet even as, through the grace of his commitment to this block, we take in what is already long gone, surely the lives continue, and, though nothing remains the same, surely right now, at this very moment, the block is alive, hustlers running their games, dogs darting through traffic, junkies yearning to score, regulars at their appointed tables in the Mediterraneum taking in the endless changes while waiting for the apocalypse, and the children dancing by, bantering, teasing, mimicking, testing, testing, looking over their shoulders to see if anyone is watching, to see if anyone is there."

---© Thomas Farber, 1975