Annotated Photographs of Beat Writers Featured in The Allen Ginsberg Festival, Starting Today


Start­ing today, the Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Muse­um (CJM) begins its four-day cel­e­bra­tion of Allen Gins­berg with The Allen Gins­berg Fes­ti­val in San Fran­cis­co, pro­duced in coop­er­a­tion with The Beat Muse­um, City Lights Book­store, and sev­er­al oth­er orga­ni­za­tions. The fes­ti­val, which runs from the 11th to the 14th of this month, cel­e­brates Ginsberg’s life and art with a host of events (some free, some rang­ing from $10 to $15 for admis­sion). While the lit­er­ary tours, pan­el dis­cus­sions, and lec­tures promise to be a treat for those lucky enough to attend, per­haps the cen­ter­piece of the Gins­berg Fes­ti­val is an exhi­bi­tion of the poet’s anno­tat­ed pho­tographs, on view at CJM until Sep­tem­ber 8th.

The pho­tos, which moved through NYU’s Grey Art Gallery ear­li­er this year, show Gins­berg and his beat bud­dies in inti­mate and unguard­ed moments, such as the snap above of William Bur­roughs and Jack Ker­ouac. In his tidy script hand­writ­ing, Gins­berg writes below the pho­to:

“Now Jack as I warned you far back as 1945, if you keep going home to live with your ‘Memère’ you’ll find your­self wound tighter and tighter in her apron strings till you’re an old man and can’t escape…” William Seward Bur­roughs camp­ing as an André Gide-ian sophis­ti­cate lec­tur­ing the earnest Thomas Wolfean All-Amer­i­can youth Jack Ker­ouac who lis­tens sober­ly dead-pan to “the most intel­li­gent man in Amer­i­ca” for a fun­ny second’s cha­rade in my liv­ing room 206 East 7th Street Apt 16, Man­hat­tan, one evening Fall 1953

Fla­vor­wire has com­piled 25 of these pho­tos, includ­ing the por­trait of the young mer­chant marine, Allen Gins­berg, below, which he anno­tates as, “Allen Gins­berg, util­i­ty man S.S. John Blair just back from Galve­ston-Dakar dol­drums trip, I hand­ed my cam­era to the radio-man on the ship’s fan­tail, smok­ing what? In New York har­bor, cir­ca Octo­ber 30, 1947.”


As the CJM page notes, “the late 1940s and ear­ly 1950s marked a cru­cial peri­od for Allen Gins­berg as he found his poet­ic and sex­u­al voic­es simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.” The pho­tos in this exhib­it doc­u­ment not only Gins­berg find­ing him­self, but also find­ing him­self among a group of men—Burroughs, Ker­ouac, Neal Cas­sady, Gre­go­ry Corso—whose rest­less­ness and eru­dite enthu­si­asm changed the course of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry lit­er­a­ture.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Very First Record­ing of Allen Gins­berg Read­ing His Epic Poem “Howl” (1956)

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Allen Ginsberg’s Per­son­al Recipe for Cold Sum­mer Borscht

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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