The above two photographs from Rag Theater open up onto one of the most troubling aspects of life on the Ave: the presence of older men who took physical liberties with the younger women on the street.
The older man in sunglasses, depicted in the top images above, is present in a good number of images from Nacio Jan Brown’s Rag Theater rolls, usually surrounded by considerably younger women and men.
Looking back on these images, Brown has compared the presence of this older man to that of a malign spider hovering in his web. His presence in the top images here—with his hands on a young woman underneath graffiti that reads “Red Rockets Rule”—suggests how the youth culture of Telegraph abutted an often dangerous adult culture of Telegraph. What may be most troubling— most resistant to easy interpretation — is the smile that the woman wears as the older man lifts up her shirt to expose her breast for the camera.
There are a number of images from the time that rhyme with the photograph of the man-with-sunglasses lifting up a woman’s shirt. Rag Theater features another image of a young man exposing a young woman’s breast: in it, the man has one arm around the woman as if in companionship, while with his other hand he pulls back her dress to reveal her nipple. Of this photograph, Nacio Jan Brown remarked at the time that there was an element of joking intended in the gesture.
The acclaimed photographer Richard Misrach’s book Telegraph Avenue 3 A.M. (executed contemporaneously with Brown’s Rag Theater) features a related image, taken of the STP Family, a hard-living subset of the counterculture. In it, two young bearded men flank a young woman—possibly just a teenager—who is falling into their laps, her shirt pulled up to reveal one of her breasts. One young man has his hand splayed on her chest; the other has a hand clutching her bare breast. They appear to lay claim to the young woman, who wears an off-kilter smile.
Neither of these photographs are reproduced here, partly out of concern that the women in them may not have been consenting adults at the time. They suggest just how much the ‘sexual revolution’ meant different things to men and women living on the street—and how the difference could be as large as the difference between being a groper and the person being groped.