The Poet In The Darkroom

Cat. 55 Bob Donlon, 1956

There’s a new exhibit of Allen Ginsberg’s photography, “Beat Memories,” that recently opened at the Grey Art Gallery in New York City:

From 1953 to 1963 Ginsberg, armed with a small, secondhand Kodak Retina camera that he bought for thirteen dollars and often tucked into his jacket pocket, shot snapshots that captured, as Sarah Greenough writes, “the playful quality of his close-knit group of friends.” We see Kerouac beneath the Brooklyn Bridge singing blues and chanting the words of Edgar Allen Poe and Hart Crane and making a “Dostoyevsky mad-face” near Tompkins Square Park.

The photographs (and negatives) from the 1950s remained unpublished for thirty years. They were, Ginsberg wrote, “meant more for a public in heaven than one here on earth—and that’s why they’re charming.” After Ginsberg’s papers were given to Columbia University, an archivist there discovered the photos and negatives and contacted Ginsberg. The idea was for Ginsberg to identify the people in the photos, nothing more. But with encouragement from the photographers Robert Frank and Berenice Abbott, Ginsberg, the innovator, the visionary, did more. He had many of his earlier photographs reprinted, adding extensive inscriptions, carefully punctuated and full of parenthetical details.

(Photo © 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.)