New York Photo Review
from the NYPR Archives

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

The Beat Generation
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg, “Peter Orlovsky and Jack Kerouac, Tangier,” 1957

The “Beat Generation,” the group of counterculture poets and writers that emerged in the early 1950s was always more famous for its words than its pictures, but this fascinating photography exhibition by famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg could change that.

“The Beats” were dedicated to flouting convention and believed they would ultimately create the “most individual, uninfluenced unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art.” They certainly tried—Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” and William S. Burroughs “Naked Lunch” became the object of landmark obscenity trials and changed the face of publishing. But who were these people? Thanks to Ginsberg’s snapshots of his inner circle that included names like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, we can see them at work and at play in New York, San Francisco and Tangier as maybe never before.

To Ginsberg, photography was often a series of candid snapshots of his close friends that he brought to his local drugstore to be developed and printed. He was also a fan of photo booths. He’d get a friend to step inside the booth and a few minutes later, a strip of four photographs emerged. One vintage strip from 1955 shows Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg’s lover, playfully grabbing his throat in one photo and looking semi-serious in the other three. Another shows Ginsberg and friend Gregory Corso shoulder-to-shoulder smiling for the camera. The drugstore prints are easy to spot. They have the deckled edges that were popular during that era; there’s even an envelope from the pharmacy where they were processed.

 by unidentified photographer.
Allen Ginsberg, “Jack Kerouac Passing Statue of Samuel Cox, New York,” 1953

The most revealing and most interesting images in this exhibition are those with hand written captions. In the early 1980s, after a 20-year hiatus from photography, Ginsberg rediscovered his old drugstore prints and negatives. On the advice of his mentors Robert Frank and Bernice Abbott, he had his old work printed by two master printers; then he captioned many in his own inimitable style. For example, for his 1994 image of Kerouac, Ginsberg wrote, “He then looked like his father, a corpulent red faced W.C. Fields....” Another captioned image from 1964 shows Timothy Leary meeting Ken Kesey for the first time in Kesey’s legendary Merry Prankster bus. The captions, some rather lengthy, and the images they explain, demand your attention.

The “Beat Generation” was never faceless or colorless, but Ginsberg’s photos give us a more intimate picture of the group’s formative years, and, of course, of Ginsberg himself.

Allen Ginsberg



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Thursday, January 27 to
Saturday, March 12, 2011
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery