Photographer Michael Heinichen (born ca 1944) is best known for his portrait of Dave Sheridan, used on the cover of the first issue (June/July 1972)] of The Rip Off Review of Western Culture, published in the summer of 1972. The Rip Off Review of Western Culture was a short-lived underground comics magazine from San Francisco that featured the work of many noteworthy underground artists and writers.
Heinichen lived in Mexico for some time – certainly more than he originally intended. His link to Ajijic is via Beverly Johnson who was already living there. In 1969, Johnson returned to California to renew her tourist papers, and met and fell in love with Heinichen. Early in 1970, they returned to Ajijic where Heinichen taught Johnson photography and darkroom techniques.
Some of his work was included in the “Fiesta de Arte” in May 1971 at the home of Frances and Ned Windham at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33 in Ajijic. More than 20 artists took part in that event, including Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice (Hunt) Huf; Lona Isoard; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.
By summer 1972, Heinichen had amassed a significant body of work from his travels around Mexico and had also separated from Johnson and moved to Jocotepec to live with his new girlfriend, Laura Katzman.
In September 1972, Allyn Hunt, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, reviewed a month-long, two-man show at El Tejabán in Ajijic of work by Heinichen and young Mexican artist Adolfo Riestra. Hunt clearly liked the “sharp, many-toned photographs of Michael Heinichen featuring Mexican beach- and mountain-scapes.” Heinichen had taken his camera all over Mexico, “seizing those images one always hopes for but seldom gets…. The delicate range of greys in these pictures is proof of Heinichen’s discerning eye and technical nimbleness.” (Guadalajara Reporter, 23 September 1972)
The following year, it seems that Heinichen and Katzman visited Columbia. On their return to Mexico City, they were arrested at Mexico City international airport and charged with possession of a kilo of cocaine between them. They were each sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.
Heinichen was one of 68 American and 7 Canadian prisoners at the American wing of Lecumberri men’s prison who held a 13-day hunger strike in 1974, which drew press attention. Described at the time as aged 30 and “a photographer from Kingsville, Texas”, Heinichen argued in the press that the couple had been coerced into making statements and had not been allowed to contact the U.S. embassy. He said that the couple were planning to get married, but that judicial authorities kept stalling the process. [The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C. – Aug 7, 1974]
It is unclear exactly what became of Michael Heinichen and Laura Katzman, though a record exists of a divorce, in May 1984 in San Francisco, between a Michael Heinichen and his wife Laura.
Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).