VERSAILLES — The walls of the Solaris Gallery are like the pages from a rock 'n' roll history book or well-preserved copies of Rolling Stone.
Many ghosts from the past — Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix — are frozen onstage in their 1960s glory. We see that when he has looked through his camera lens, Don Aters has even seen the likes of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin — not a reunion, but Zeppelin back in Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's youthful glory.
The Indiana University graduate started taking pictures while he was in the Navy. When he was discharged in 1967, he headed to San Francisco.
"Everyone wanted to go to San Francisco — flowers in your hair and all that, like the song says," Aters said during a midmorning chat at Solaris. "That was the weekend of the Monterey Pop Festival, so I took pictures there of Ravi Shankar and the Association, which I liked. Janis Ian was there; she was 16 years old at the time."
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In retrospect, he says, he should have taken pictures of Joplin, but he wasn't aware of her at the time. He got more chances to shoot her and many other artists.
Aters can talk at length about working with members of the Grateful Dead and other figures, including iconic rock concert promoter Bill Graham. He has shot acts from Jim Morrison to the Dave Matthews Band.
He remains an active photographer, covering Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., and editing the Haight Street Music News (Haightstreetmusicnews.com). Settled in Versailles, he also lectures on the 1960s counterculture with Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten. In his talks, Aters says, he tries to emphasize the positives of the 1960s generation, one which he says is often written off as sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
The talks, of course, usually are accompanied by his photos.
"My destiny is to do what I've done well," he says. "That's why I'm on this planet."