You most probably know him from his infamous poem Howl, but Allen Ginsberg was also a great analogue photographer. A new London exhibition of his work takes us back to this timeless period of the beats and into the private life of this great American poet.
Being a massive fan of the beats – the generation of American poets and writers from the 50s that spawned classic literature like On The Road, Naked Lunch and more – news of a photography exhibition from perhaps the most famous of them all, Allen Ginsberg, at London’s National Theatre, had me quivering in anticipation.
I arrived at the exhibition, titled Angelheaded Hipsters (taken from Ginsberg’s most famous poem Howl), surprised at how good of an arrangement the National had made of Ginsberg’s private photos in their Lyttleton space (previously home to The British Photographic Landscape Awards). The first image, as you scale the stairs, is of a naked Ginsberg reclining on the edge of his bath in his New York apartment, taking a shot of himself in the mirror. Quite a sharp introduction to the rest of his work!
Having flicked through his collection of photographs in the book Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg before, I was happy to be faced with shots I’d previously never seen, particularly those taken in the early 50s. Ginsberg’s use of his second hand Kodak had been artfully employed to capture the burning stars of the beat period, with Cassady, Kerouac and Burroughs firmly on show.
What caught my attention most about the collection is the level of intensity between the subjects in shots. It’s evident that Ginsberg had a real connection with all his subjects, transcending all the drugs, sex and alcohol myths that surrounded those times. Most interesting though is Ginsberg’s own position as photographer (himself admitted his “amateurish” quality) and his experiment between photography and words. His captions scrawled underneath each image serve to remind just how powerful an accompaniment a great caption can be to a single black and white composition.
Here are just some of those timeless images Ginsberg captured to remind us of this great time for art in all its guises.
So maybe next time you’ll all think a little more about titling and adding comments for each of your shots on your lomohomes. I’ll certainly look forward to seeing them!