Ginsberg Saw the Best Minds of His Generation, and Captured Them on Film

BY Tom LeGro  May 27, 2010 at 2:55 PM EST

Allen Ginsberg’s provocative poetry and acute aversion toward mainstream conformity thrust him into the limelight of mid-20th century America.

In the 1950s, Ginsberg, along with fellow writers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, anchored a group of writers known as the Beat Generation. Spirituality, spontaneity, sexual openness and a rejection of materialism were hallmark characteristics of the group. Compelling works like Kerouac’s 1957 novel “On the Road” and Ginsberg’s epic 1956 poem, ‘Howl’, enshrined the Beat Generation’s place in American literature.

Though Ginsberg will forever be remembered as an influential poet, he also documented his life through photos. The exhibit, “Beat Memories: The Photos of Allen Ginsberg,” showcases more than 80 black-and-white photos captured through the lens of Ginsberg’s secondhand Kodak Retina camera.

“The same ideas that infuse and invigorate his poetry…all of these things really help to invigorate his photography as well,” says Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.
From New York to San Francisco, the photos offer an intimate look at Ginsberg and other Beat writers as they’re on the cusp of the fame that would eventually transform their lives.

‘Beat Memories: The Photos of Allen Ginsberg’ is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., through September 6, 2010.