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Friday, 10 September 2010


There was thing on NPR some some months ago about Allen Ginsberg's photographs, and the person being interviewed was going on about what an amazing, amazing photographer Allen Ginsberg was.

I'd seen a book a Allen Ginsberg's photographs some years before that, and frankly, I was not that impressed. I thought the only thing that made his photos unique were the people in them, who, by accident of history, became famous. Otherwise, they looked to me like the stuff that would go in a family photo album.

So I guess Ginsberg, as quoted above, is right. I do think it's funny how, just because someone is famous for one thing, they're suddenly considered to be supremely talented in all other areas--and stuff like Ginsberg's photos are considered as "showing the work of a superior photographer" --even when they really don't. Kind of an "emperor's new clothes" thing.

"As Ginsberg said:

If you’re famous, you can get away with anything! "

This was probably the most profoundly insightful revelation that Ginzberg ever had. It's more of a bulls-eye today than he could ever have imagined.

These guys came and went while I was still relieving myself in cotton cloths so I've no direct recollection of the "beat" guys. But they sure did seem to have a good time with themselves, becoming intoxicated by breathing each others' exhaust. Such self-declared intellectual superiority. So smug. So mercifully brief.

Cool, daddy-o, cool!

Having access can be an important part of making interesting pictures. Sometimes relatively ordinary photographs of extraordinary things (or people) can be very interesting; if not as photographic art, still as documentation.

Ginsberg certainly had that kind of access.

I'm still wondering what happened to Robert Heinlein's photo collection. It's clear from the biography that he was a fairly serious photographer (set up his own darkroom in 1948, and such), and he was around all the other important authors of the early part of his era a fair amount. (Also photographed some of their wives nude, it sounds like, but I rather hope those shots don't surface.)


"Such self-declared intellectual superiority. So smug."

I'm curious as to where you saw any of these writers declare their intellectual superiority to anyone.

Director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) is presently filming "On the Road" which should be out in 2011. This is a film I want to see!

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garret Hedlun as Dean Moriarty. More at thelink below:


Photography seems the bastard art form celebrities and "other" art stars gravitate to as an "easy" sideline. Today we have Lou Reed walking about with one, two, three photo books under his belt- and much as I like his music...

We see the same thing here in Australia (and I guess you do in the US too) with sports-people turning to the media after their careers.
In most cases they shouldn't.
But since this is a photography blog shall we discuss when successful photographers who are good in one or two disciplines suddenly turn to other subjects?
For example a good commercial photographer isn't necessarily good at weddings.

I'm more into the 4th beat, Gregory Corso, known for his obnoxious antics, heroin addiction, frequent money borrowing, and at times exceptional poetry. If he ever had a camera, he would have pawned it.

God love the irreverent clowns...

I guess I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate that sculpture growing out of Jack Kerouac's head. Surely it was intentional.

Breathe in - get heady - enjoy - [and there is something there to be enjoyed, certainly in Jack Kerouac's writing and the story of his life - in my opinion]

Thank you, for this blog post... i really like the photographs and the book. Must buy !

"In 1953 he bought a small Kodak Retina camera for $13 secondhand at a Bowery pawnshop"

I'll say it again: I was speechless when Kodak killed off the Retina and replaced it with an Instamatic SLR.

Who makes those decisions, and what were they thinking?

And remember kids...in photography it is sometimes more important who is in the image rather than how perfectly it was captured....

I recently saw the show of them at the National Gallery (DC) and Ken and Paul are right - they will not knock you out due to the mastery of the medium.

I do think they show the other side of photography - a more casual way that people document their lives. The bonus that takes Ginsberg's photos above many others is due to the life he lived and the people he documented.

Hate "the Beats" all you want but most times content and context are far more important than technical mastery.

@David Dyer-Bennet:

Heinlein's photography and other archival materials appear to be accessible at:


oddly, you may purchase segments of the archive in watermarked PDF form at very modest prices; one section is described as:

Various photos of unclothed naturists in family groupings at the clubs the Heinleins were members of in the 1950s


I think many here are missing the point. The beats lived in the moment; their writing, ie their expression or art, was never supposed to be conformist, predictable or for the masses. From Wikipedia: "The members of the Beat Generation quickly developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity".

It is absolutely consistent with their refreshing and inspired approach to art that their photographs betray no adherence to the kind of formal conventions that most people would find safe and acceptable.

All the negativity here is puzzling to me.

"Such self-declared intellectual superiority. So smug."

I'm curious as to where you saw any of these writers declare their intellectual superiority to anyone.

I wonder this too, that's not at all my impression.

I guess I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate that sculpture growing out of Jack Kerouac's head. Surely it was intentional.

Doesn't read that way to me, any more than the trees appear to be growing out of the cars. I understand about framing subjects when the background is in focus or nearly in focus, but when it's as out of focus as that... And as Phil has pointed out, they weren't about being conventional.

The reason for the dissonance here is the tawdry nature and persistence of the cult of celebrity and its evil twin sister, fame..and the impact it has on some of us.

You can add Dennis Hopper to the list of in-crowd celeb shooters with a ready-made entree to 'those the common people love to watch'. Or at least the media.

There is a reason Carl Jung eschewed attempting to make his body of work more 'accessible' to the mainstream of society.

Clive James produced a wonderful analysis/critique of fame in modern society some years ago, 'Fame in the 20th Century' - compelling viewing it was. Fame is of course almost uncorrelated with talent (think Paris Hilton). Another guy I liked from back in the celeb beat times was Marshall McLuhan, a towering and original intellect. Not too famous either!

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