Hippie Canyon Culture Comes Alive in Sun-Kissed Photos | City of the Seekers

Canyons have always been a safe haven for mystically-minded LA artists, now more than ever.

This article contains adult content. 

In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.

Something about LA's canyons has always attracted hippies. From the lush greenery and the scent of honeysuckles, to near-eerie silence and hermetic privacy, they afford a peaceful oasis amidst the concrete sprawl. With their utopian sense of freedom, it's no wonder why SoCal canyons have historically been ideal environments for visual artists, songwriters, filmmakers, and other creative types like photographer Heather Culp, whose own work is a tribute to the intimate, sun-soaked dreaminess hovering over her home base of Topanga Canyon.


Carly Jo in the canyon

Together with fellow artist Carly Jo Morgan, Culp has co-founded Mercado Sagrado (Spanish for "sacred market"), which is a tribute to the spirit of the canyon manifested as a yearly festival with organic food, independent makers, workshops, speakers, and a socially-conscious vibe that attracts a flock of counterculture figures looking for something more meaningful than a trip to the mall. (Culp and Morgan also host smaller community events throughout the year.)

But Culp's own practice extends well beyond the work she does with Mercado Sagrado. For the past few years, the photographer has been working on an upcoming book of portraits, interiors, and landscapes focusing on women in Topanga Canyon and the Santa Monica Mountains. The project includes personal stories and a history of the area, and has also led Culp to begin working on a related short film about the ladies, too.


Michael by candlelight

An alumnus of Pasadena's esteemed ArtCenter College for Design, Culp left Southern California thinking she'd never return. She lived in New York for seven years, then relocated to Taos, New Mexico, living off the grid in an Earthship before coming back to California. This, as it turns out, influences her work more than she ever anticipated.

"For me, the highest and best art induces an experience of transcendence through beauty, emotion, and connection," Culp tells The Creators Project. "I’m always striving for that for myself through my process, or with hope that something I make will serve as a bridge for that experience for someone else."


Serena in the canyon

Creatively, Culp is inspired by such simple yet profound things as love, nature, and mystery, but also by cybernetics as well as social and artificial engineering. More than anything, her creative and spiritual philosophy is to simply be in the moment, and "to remain as peaceful, joyful and open as possible despite the chaos and darkness in the world."












Sae & Isabel in the canyon


Tessa upstate, photograph on hemp

Mercado Sagrado takes place November 5 and 6 in Malibu Canyon. Learn more about the festival and visit Heather Culp’s website here.


When Landscapes Become Portraits Instead | City of the Seekers

Behind-the-Scenes of a UFO Arts Collective | City of the Seekers

Gold-on-Black Art by LA's White Witch | City of the Seekers