A Beat Poet’s Colorful Crew, in Black and White

tags: NYT, Allen Ginsberg, beat generation, Jack Kerouac, photography, Greenwich Village



Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was a great poet but not a great photographer. So while “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” at the Grey Art Gallery is an interesting exhibition, it is in certain ways disappointing. The best you can say about the pictures Ginsberg took during two periods in which he dabbled in the medium — the ’50s and early ’60s and the ’80s and ’90s — is that they are the works of a competent amateur. The bigger disappointment, however, is that much of the history that Ginsberg lived through and did so much to alter as a countercultural activist is missing.

The exhibition was organized by Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photography at the National Gallery of Art, where it had its debut in 2010.

From the early 1950s to about 1964, Ginsberg regularly used a cheap camera to take snapshots of his now famous pals, including the writers Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, as well as Neal Cassady, their logorrheic muse. Knowing that these young bucks were reanimating American literature and sowing the seeds of a broader cultural revolution makes them riveting to look at. But considering the incendiary stuff they were writing — “Howl,” “On the Road,” “Junkie” — and their bohemian lifestyles dedicated to the pursuit of sex, drugs and jazz, the photographs are remarkably tame....



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