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Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg
May 2 – September 16, 2010
West Building Ground Floor

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: In the first scholarly exhibition of American poet Allen Ginsberg's photographs, all facets of his work in photography will be explored. Some 79 works on display will range from the 1950s "drugstore" prints to his now celebrated portraits of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, snapshots of Ginsberg himself taken just before he achieved literary fame, and his later portraits of the Beats and other friends made in the 1980s and 1990s. Ginsberg (1926–1997) started taking photographs in 1953 when he purchased a small, secondhand Kodak camera. For the next decade he captured numerous intimate shots of himself as well as his friends and lovers. He abandoned photography in 1963 but returned to it in the early 1980s. Encouraged by photographers Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank, he reprinted much of his early work and began making new portraits, adding sometimes extensive inscriptions. Although Ginsberg's photographs form a compelling portrait of the Beat and counterculture generation from the 1950s to the 1990s, his pictures are far more than mere historical documents. The same ideas that inform his poetry—an intense observation of the world, a deep appreciation of the beauty of the vernacular, a celebration of the sacredness of the present, and a faith in intuitive expression—also permeate his photography.

Sponsor: The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Trellis Fund. Additional support is provided by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Catalog: Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, Sarah Greenough, National Gallery of Art and Prestel, 2010.

Image: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac wandering along East 7th Street after visiting Burroughs at our pad, passing statue of Congressman Samuel "Sunset" Cox, "The Letter-Carrier's Friend" in Tompkins Square toward corner of Avenue A, Lower East Side; he's making a Dostoyevsky mad-face or Russian basso be-bop Om, first walking around the neighborhood, then involved with The Subterraneans, pencils & notebook in wool shirt-pockets, Fall 1953, Manhattan., 1953, gelatin silver print, Gift of Gary S. Davis Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved. 2009.108.2

Related Artists

Related Resources

Education Resource: Art since 1950

Audio and Video

"The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg" with director Jerry Aronson
Video, Released: February 1, 2011, (20:30 minutes)
The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg
Audio, Released: August 10, 2010, (58:10 minutes)
Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg: Part 2, Revisiting and Reprinting
Audio, Released: May 11, 2010, (13:45 minutes)
Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg: Part 1, The Early Photos
Audio, Released: May 4, 2010, (15:04 minutes)
Press Event: Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg
Audio, Released: April 27, 2010, (17:20 minutes)