Inside the box

At Home (and Inside The Box) with Roger Steffens and The Family Acid

The story of Roger Steffens' life would be too crazy, rich, and curious to be believed if he didn’t have the pictures to prove it. Born in Brooklyn, Steffens was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1967. He joined a psychological operations unit, and as part of his service, he was given unlimited film and allowed to travel freely throughout the country documenting what he saw.

Amidst the chaos, destruction, and sadness of the war, Steffens ended up in a place called Coconut Island, a slip of land on the Mekong River that had been turned into a refuge for pacifists and deserters by a 4½-foot-tall hunchback monk. The experience was a turning point in his life: he became profoundly disenchanted with the war, and it was also there that he met his first wife, a war correspondent.

Upon receiving his discharge (and a bronze star for his service), Steffens and his then wife went into self-imposed exile in Morocco, but eventually he returned to California, the place to which he’d vowed to return if he survived the war. In the years that followed, he delivered lectures on his experiences in Vietnam; hung out with Tim Page, the Rolling Stone photographer who was too wild for Hunter S. Thompson and inspired Dennis Hopper’s character in Apocalypse Now; met and fell in love with his second wife and lifelong companion, Mary Higgins, “in a pigmy forest on an acid trip under a total eclipse of the moon”; he continued to shoot photos of his friends and travels; and he became part of the radical, bohemian LA counterculture. More than anything, it seems Steffens has always been a man on a mission of discovery: to explore the farther flung regions of the world and his consciousness.

As if this wasn’t enough for one lifetime, in 1973 Steffens was introduced to reggae, and thus began his second (third?) act (there have been several more). He fell in love with the music and started “Reggae Beat,” a show on LA radio station KCRW, right as the music was rapidly growing in popularity. In the ensuing years, he would become an LA-fixture for the reggae world - one of the foremost archivists and scholars on Bob Marley and Peter Tosh - and host to luminaries of the music when they came to town.

Roger and Mary’s Echo Park home was a hub for the eclectic and eccentric people who came into their orbit. Their two kids, Kate and Devon, would come home from school to find, say, Nina Simone in the kitchen, or a bunch of Rastas. As they describe it, these drops-ins were just an ordinary part of life. Kate and Devon didn’t even realize that their father was a “photographer” — he just always had a camera with him, and periodically he would wheel out a projector and give slideshows in the living room as a family activity. 

Then, several years back, Devon set about digitizing his father’s enormous slide library, and Roger’s Zelig-like life began to come into focus: from the Vietnam Years to the psychedelic 70s all the way up to the present. The result is The Family Acid, his first book of photos (and an insanely entertaining Instagram handle) from a life well-lived. It’s all very much a family affair, with Devon digitizing slides for another photo book, and Kate running the Instagram and drawing eyes to the images.

Roger was kind enough to invite Standard Culture photographer Michael Schmelling into his house to document the archive that launched a zillion Instagram likes. He also provided us with a killer Reggae playlist. And since it’s always summer in Jamaica, you can enjoy this one year-round.

Last but not least, The Standard, Hollywood is thrilled to welcome The Family Acid into The Box Family. Steffens’ work is currently on view in our vitrine. And because Roger has always loved and documented The Strip, it seems fitting that he should finally have a place on it. Swing by and check it out. And follow the Family Acid on Instagram.
The Family Acid's Installation in The Box at The Standard, Hollywood


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