During what little free time she has from her full-time job as a horse trainer and farrier, the daughter of the late Mill Valley photographer Suki Hill is holed up in her mom’s Edgewood Ave. home pouring through “hundreds of thousands” of Suki’s photos, cataloging and digitizing as she goes.
The archive spans from Suki Hill’s European travels in her early 20s, through her front row seat for the peak of the explosion of the San Francisco music scene in the late 1960s and all the way to the weeks and months prior to her passing, when she did a series of heartfelt photo essays on the workers who are the backbone of Mill Valley.
Abby Hill’s goal, quite simply, is to preserve the photographic legacy of her mom, widely known as the photographer laureate of Mill Valley, who died on June 14 at the age of 72.
The first step toward doing just that comes on January 3, when “Suki Hill: Vintage Black and White Photography of the 1960s” debuts at the Mill Valley Community Center under the auspices of the Mill Valley Arts Commission. A reception will be held from 6–8pm on January 6 as part of the First Tuesday Artwalk.
“I am hoping everyone in the community comes out to celebrate Suki’s beautiful life and work!” says Recreation Director Jenny Rogers. “We are very excited to have landed the exhibition at the Community Center. Swing by the Center in January to see this gorgeous show.”
Abby Hill curated the exhibit along with Arts Commissioner Robert Kilby and Dave Christensen, the director of the Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco.
Abby Hill says that while her mom’s photos of Mill Valleyans are well known locally and her classic rock photos are hugely popular, she specifically chose work that has never been seen by the public.
“These shots are from her personal travels when she was in her 20s, before she was married and before I and my brother Zack were born,” Hill says. “These are very personal photos. I remember coming across these images when I was very yong, and even as a kid I appreciated that what I was looking at was pretty special. This is the work that influenced me to get into photography myself.”
The exhibit will feature approximately 35 photos, drawn from Hills travels around Europe and elsewhere. “She had a magnetic way of drawing people in and making them feel open and comfortable in her presence, and for that she captured a soulfulness in her subjects,” according to the Arts Commission. Hill often captured her subjects’ character in a way that prompted them to smile and say, “you got me.”
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hill moved to Mill Valley in 1965 after earning a Masters Degree in Philosophy from the University of California.
A 2007 recipient of a Milley Award, Hill made a name for herself in the 1960s and 1970s as one of the pre-eminent photographers of the thriving Bay Area music scene, snapping classic shots of the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan.
Abby Hill certainly has her work cut out for her in cataloging and digitizing her prolific mom’s photo collection. Of the hundreds of thousands of photos taken by Hill over the years, only a few thousand have been digitized to date, Abby Hill says.
Over time, Hill hopes to produce other exhibits of her mom’s work, as well as a book. Suki Hill published in 2007 "Mill Valley: Then & Now," which contrasted early images throughout Mill Valley with her own modern photos of the same places.
In 2011, she created the "Mill Valley at Work" exhibit that featured workers at places like the Mill Valley Market, whose employees Hill said were "like family to me."
The 411: “Suki Hill: Vintage Black and White Photography of the 1960s” opens January 3 at the Mill Valley Community Center. A reception will be held from 6–8pm on January 6 as part of the First Tuesday Artwalk.