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Grateful Dead photographer Herb Greene has nothing but love for MFA’s ‘Summer of Love’

The Grateful Dead in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967.
The Grateful Dead in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967.(Herb Greene)

When Herb Greene was running around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967, he never imagined that the photos he was taking would someday be in a museum.

“Are you kidding? Even being in a gallery was unthinkable,” says Greene, who lives in Maynard.

But 50 years later, his black-and-white shots are some of the best stuff in the MFA’s far-out show “The Summer of Love: Photography and Graphic Design,” a collection of posters, album covers, and photographs documenting the Haight-Ashbury counterculture and its burgeoning music scene.

Greene went on to become one of the Grateful Dead’s principal photographers because he was present at the band’s inception, when they were still known as the Warlocks.

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He also photographed Janis Joplin , and his shot of the members of Jefferson Airplane holding instruments — it was taken in his apartment, by the way — became the cover of the band’s debut album, “Surrealistic Pillow.”

“I was just the guy with long hair and a camera who befriended these guys,” Greene said modestly Tuesday.

Maybe so, but he was there and his iconic photos, combined with his hustle and connections, helped him cobble together a decent career photographing the likes of Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, The Pointer Sisters, Carlos Santana, and Sly Stone.

But San Francisco in the ’60s was special, and Greene gets wistful just thinking about it.

“I came of age in San Francisco, I fell in love in San Francisco,” he says. “It was so wonderful — and so cheap. It’s a thing that’ll never happen again.”

He doesn’t take photos anymore — he gardens instead — but Greene did attend the “Fare Thee Well” concerts in Chicago a few years ago, a series of shows featuring surviving Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart. His photos were the subject of a slideshow featured in the Chicago concerts.

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“I was like a hero,” he says. “In that world, they call me ‘legendary,’ and I guess I really am in that world. I didn’t know and I didn’t care, but I was part of the Grateful Dead family from the very beginning.”