After decades of being out of print, iconic sixties image Little Girl on the Beach by John Pearson is finally available again as a 21 1/4" x 18" black & white poster, distributed exclusively through Amoeba Music. The subject of the photograph is actually one of Amoeba Music's owners, Karen Pearson, who was four years of age when her father snapped the iconic image on a Bay Area beach in 1965. Not planned or staged/posed in any way, the casually taken photo began its ubiquitous life almost by accident when, upon the suggestion of others in the Bay Area Photographers Association, it was entered as part of a children's alphabet themed exhibit in the San Francisco Art Festival that year. The photo, chosen to represent "J for Joy" in the festival, would go on to become globally popular, and would also become Pearson's best known photograph.
Originally one of ten photographs on a roll of film (in the pre-digital age) that Pearson shot on Stinson Beach in Marin County, the photo was first printed as a 5" x 7" scale print. He then blew that up into a larger size print to enter it in the San Francisco Art Festival. From there the photo took on a life of its own; first as a poster that became a classic of the '60s and '70s, and then as the cover of two books - Pearson's own first publication (one of eight books he would publish), To Be Nobody Else, and later the best selling book, Born to Win: Transactional Analysis With Gestalt Experiments by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward, published in 1966. The image resonated with a generation and a time in history - many finding the simple but profound image conveyed messages of freedom and hope, joy and happiness, and peace with nature.
"Light Fantastic" by John Pearson
When I met up last week with John Pearson at the Caffe Mediterraneum (beside Amoeba Berkeley), I asked him what he thought it was about his iconic photo that resonated with so many people. "Nature was one thing, the feeling of freedom," offered Mr. Pearson, noting that, "It wasn't posed at all. You couldn't pose a picture like that." As a poster, the photo became ubiquitous. Pearson himself figured it would be found on the wall in an average of "3 out of 4 households" in Berkeley at the time. Meanwhile New Yorker Marc Weinstein, who years later would become Karen Pearson's business partner in Amoeba, remembered how, "As a teenager in the early '70s, that poster was prominently displayed in 'head shops,' bookstores, and other cultural venues," he said. "I remember seeing it on the wall at Goody Two Shoes in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. The image so perfectly expressed the utter wonder of being alive on this amazing planet. [And] at 14 years old, I looked up at the wall and saw an image of my future partner; little did I know at the time!"
Looking back at that time when she was only four years old, Karen, the subject of the famous image, recalls, "It's funny how long ago it seems now, but that image definitely was a big part of my childhood. I vaguely remember the day on the beach. But what I remember so much more vividly is how much that image seemed to resonate with people and how the poster became a sort of iconic counterculture symbol. It seemed to really represent a deep humanity at a time when people were lost and confused and searching: the war was swirling in Vietnam, people were marching in the streets, there was a rumbling - a stirring of mass proportions, a 'turbulence' and I think when change is happening, on a big or small scale, there is also anxiousness and fear. There are two forces pulling at each other: the need for change, and the fear of change. And, during that time, there was a collective fear of the unknown, and a brewing 'chaos,' if you will. And that image seemed to reassure people of a basic hope. It distilled down a simplicity of a moment that we could all connect to."
John Pearson Amoeblog Interview
The younger Pearson also recalls how, "People would come up to me and tell me how it had inspired them at dark times in their lives, how it had represented major choices and crossroads, how it had given them strength to embrace the future or embrace happiness or courage or....whatever it was for them. There were endless stories, deep and emotional stories, about their lives and how this particular image had impacted them." For a young kid of 7 or 8 years of age that was a lot to absorb.
"I doubt that I fully understood much of the meaning for people, but I did begin to really see how much people need a connection," said Karen Pearson this week. "And whether it comes from an image that speaks to them, or through music or art, a human connection and a shared experience is what we are all looking for...something as simple and honest as a little girl standing on the beach, arms open, reaching out to the waves, hugging the beach, and loving the world is timeless. The moment is still a powerful image and it gives us a tiny bit of hope!"
Photographer Pearson noted of his subject in Little Girl on the Beach that, "She had on a bathing suit. Some people thought she was nude but she was not." Pearson chose the image as one of his book covers. All of the eight books published over his lifetime are now out of print and collectors items. "Most of the books did quite well and I get contacted by people about them frequently," said Pearson who hears from fans thanks in major part to his website JohnPearsonPhotography.com. One guy contacted him to say, "I was rummaging in my father's garage and I found a book called Magic Doors and I really liked it and wondered if you have any more?" He doesn't but, who knows? He may republish some of them.
In the interview with Mr. Pearson, part of which appears below in video format, I asked him how he felt about the digital age we are currently in where everyone, it seems, is a photographer. "I like it. I think the more the merrier," said Pearson who recommends visiting the website Photo.net. "They have photos from all over the world - great photos you would never see in galleries," he marveled, adding how how he is also a fan of YouTube where he has uploaded many of his photos in slide show format on his YouTube channel. Visit John Pearson's website for more on the artist's body of work.
The Little Girl on the Beach poster is finally back in print and available from Amoeba Music exclusively. The posters are black and white offset litho prints, printed on 100lb cover with dimensions 21 1/4" x 18". Buy poster here.
"Karen in Dance Class 2" by John Pearson (the "Little Girl on the Beach" goes to dance class)