1972 McGovern Rally, Athens, Ohio
McGovern rally, Athens, Ohio, 1972 (photo: Ken Light)

OU Alum To Publish Book Of Early ’70s Photos

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Volatility marked the time in American history when Ken Light discovered his love of photography as a student at Ohio University.

The documentary photographer’s early career included an arrest and photographing such events as prisoners of war returning home and a mining disaster.

A collection of his work from 1969-1974 is set to be published at the end of this year and will include several photographs from the area.

Light came to Ohio University as an undergraduate in 1969 to study government and sociology. The son of an amateur photographer, Light said he had access to a camera and began documenting what he saw around him.

According to Light, he attended OU before the school of VISCOM was established and only took one photography class. He said he had a loose affiliation with The Post and OU’s yearbook, but news wasn’t his focus at the time.

“I was really interested in more of the era and what was happening,” he said. “Instead of focusing on news, I focused more on the social landscape of what was going on in Athens and America.”

In 1969, Light and other OU students traveled by bus to Washington, D.C. to participate in the moratorium to end the Vietnam War. The following year, he hitchhiked to Columbus to shoot the Cambodia invasion protests on the Ohio State University campus. While covering the protest, Light was arrested.

“I was arrested even though I had a press pass from The Post. They ripped it off my shirt and threw it up in the air like confetti,” Light recalled.

Luckily, Light’s film was in tact and he had his photographs developed once he was released from jail. He said he sent the photos to New York and they were published all over the world.

“Seeing your work all over the world when you’re 19 years old is pretty strong,” he said. “It was that moment that I realized photos had power and they gave me a powerful voice.”

1969 concert, Athens, Ohio
Students are seen during a free concert in Athens, Ohio, 1969 (photo: Ken Light)

Light continued to photograph around Ohio including at the William Brooks Shoe Co. in Nelsonville (now Rocky Outdoor Gear Store), prisoners of war returning to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and Richard Nixon’s campaign stops in northern Ohio. He also shot the Buffalo Creek mining disaster in Logan County, West Virginia and the 1972 Republican National Convention in Florida.

“I did all this stuff while based in Athens. I would take off during breaks or miss class. I was propelled to tell the story,” Light said.

After graduation, Light moved to the bay area of California in 1973.

Light now serves as a photojournalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley and has published eight books.

“These early photographs have been sitting in my archives,” Light said. “I began editing them a few years ago and have been wanting to do this book.”

Light said that several publishers were interested in printing the book, including the Ohio University Press, but the recession postponed the project.

“But there’s this whole new world of crowdfunding out there and I decided last year that I was going to do a Kickstarter campaign,” he said.

Light started that campaign on Feb. 12 with a goal of $30,000. As of Friday, he had raised more than $34,000. He said the additional funds will allow him to donate copies of his books to libraries and possibly do a book tour.

A designer from New York has been hired to lay out the book and Light is currently scanning the negatives of the photos for publication. He said the book, called What’s Going On: America 1969-1974, will contain 140 photos and will be published before Christmas this year.

The subject of the photos range from riots in Athens and Columbus, Nixon’s campaign, the Black Panthers, the shoe factory, high school students in New York and the Women’s Liberation Front.

For information about the book, visit

William Brooks Shoe Company employee, 1972
William Brooks Shoe Company employee, 1972 (photo: Ken Light)