Joan Archibald was a suburban housewife with two kids living in Long Island in the 1960s. In 1966 she walked out of her house and never returned.
She ended up in hippy Malibu, living out of her car. She changed her name to Kali. She took up photography, taking pictures of Californians not much younger than herself. She hung out with Richard Chamberlain. She was loving it.
A year later, her mom bought her a house in Palm Springs–Bobby Darrin and Sandra Dee’s old place–so the kids could visit. “An artist,” she said, “needs to live alone to create.” But she did allow the kids to stay the summer.
Susan, the girl, was a muse for her mom, dressing up and assuming made-up characters dreamt up by Kali; her summer friend Cindy Sherman also was a model in these photographic experiments.
Kali’s large outdoor pool was in fact her giant finishing tank: after developing her prints in her Roman bathtub, she would toss the freshly developed prints into the pool with bottles of color and finishing agents, bugs and dirt, buckets of dye and paints, dancing in the pool with the artwork, tossing each print to the deck after achieving the perfect colorization that signified its finishing. Kali would emerge after hours of “finishing” her work, collapsing from exhaustion. Susan was in charge of retrieving the prints, after which they disappeared and were never seen again. Until now.
Susan moved away and got married, to Len Prince, and during the subsequent decades Kali became more and more reclusive, obsessively photographing the monitors hooked up to her house’s extraordinary Closed Circuit TV security system, and making notes and drawings of the nocturnal “events” she witnessed overnight. Rain, moths, rustling wind became UFO visitations, for over three years she did not leave her house for fear of these uninvited nightly visitors. Estranged from her family, no one knew what happened to her until Susan received a call from a hospital. She reconnected with Kali, now suffering from dementia. Upon cleaning out Kali’s house and settling her affairs, the mysterious lockers in the garage were opened, and Susan promptly had a stroke. Her ex-husband, Len Prince, a noted photographer in his own right, spent the next two years archiving and organizing the prodigious output of the eccentric and brilliant Kali. The archive, now with Emory University, is presented here for the first time.
Len Prince is an American photographer whose work includes portraiture of film, dance, and music legends, fashion, nudes, and cityscapes. Publications include About Glamour (1997), Make Over Your Man (2001), Remembering Marvin Hamlisch (2016), as well as numerous prints and interviews in Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine, Essence, and Paper Magazine. Prince’s focus on theatrical and entertainment photography has led to campaign work for several Broadway theater productions, including The Graduate with Kathleen Turner, Jason Biggs, and Alicia Silverstone, and Chicago with Gretchen Mol, Usher, Brooke Shields, Mel B, among others. His work is held at The Getty Museum and the Archives at Emory University. Prince currently resides in upstate New York with his two chocolate Labs, Bob Yoda and Archie.
Matt Tyrnauer is a director, writer and journalist, whose films include Valentino: The Last Emperor; Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood; Studio 54; and Where’s My Roy Cohn? As Editor-At-Large and Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair he contributed many feature articles, and has contributed to publications including The New York Times, Architectural Digest, and L’Uomo Vogue. He is a native of Los Angeles.
Brian Wallis is the former Chief Curator and Deputy Director at the International Center of Photography in New York, where he organized or co-organized numerous exhibitions including “Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self;” “African American Vernacular Photography;” “Ecotopia;” and “Weegee: Murder is My Business.” He is the coeditor of Imagining Everyday Life: Engagements with Vernacular Photography (2020).
“1960s housewife and photographer Kali might be the greatest forgotten artist of her time” – Matt Tyrnauer, L’Officiel USA
“The colors in many of Kali’s images seem to shimmer, as if pulsing with their own internal heartbeat” – Naomi Fry, The New Yorker
“The ultimate distillation of an expansive, naïve and chaotic place and time.” – Coralie Kraft, T: The New York Times Style Magazine
“Is Kali Archibald destined to be the new Vivian Maier?” – David Schonauer, American Photography’s Pro Photo Daily