Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beat Memories - The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

The National Gallery of Art hosts an exhibition of Allen Ginsberg's photographs, May - September.

"Drawing on the most common form of photography, the snapshot, he created spontaneous, uninhibited pictures of ordinary events to celebrate and preserve what he called "the sacredness of the moment."

Ginsberg's interest in photography was not casual, not a passing hobby. In many ways, the practice of photography augmented his poetry. Both art forms, as practiced by Ginsberg, merged the visual with the autobiographical. As he wrote in the Author's Preface to Collected Poems 1947-1980, "Herein author has assembled all his poetry books published to date rearranged in straight chronological order to compose an autobiography."

His photographs, many uniquely and extensively captioned by hand, augment and extend the autobiographical record. Primarily portraits, they depict a multitude of friends and acquaintances - artists, writers, scholars, boyfriends, family members - spanning the second half of the 20th century. They are not consciously 'arty' but are, like his poetry, deliberately visual and richly detailed. If Ginsberg is, as Bill Morgan asserts in The Typewriter is Holy, the Beat Generation's bonding agent, the one person whose effort, vision, and conviction is primarily responsible for scholars and readers being able to talk about a 'Beat Generation' today, then Ginsberg's photographs are unequivocally the most important visual record we have of that literary circle.

(Allen Ginsberg, Managua, Nicaragua 1986, photograph by Patrick Warner)

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