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Allen Ginsberg’s Photographs of the Beat Generation Star in a New Exhibit


August 9, 2023

by Alexandra Tremayne-Pengelly

Allen Ginsberg’s Photographs of the Beat Generation Star in a New Exhibit

The show will also feature AI-generated poems created in response to Ginsberg's photography.

Allen Ginsberg, the late poet who helped form the core of the Beat Generation, is best known for chronicling the world through his gritty and confessional words. But a new exhibit at the Los Angeles-based Fahey/Klein gallery showcases Ginsberg’s images, taken of the writer’s famed friends and acquaintances starting in the 1950s until his death in 1997.

The exhibition’s black and white images will be on view starting tomorrow (August 10) through September 23, showcasing casual and at times benign snapshots of the poet’s spirited life. Ginsberg, who wrote the acclaimed Howl, once said that “the poignancy of a photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting movement in a floating world.”

Muse & Self: Photographs by Allen Ginsberg will cover two of Ginsberg’s photographic periods, according to Fahey/Klein. Between the early 1950s and into the 1960s, the writer used a second-hand Kodak Retina camera to snap images of friends and fellow Beat Generation members like Jean Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady. A photo from 1957 depicts Kerouac, the author of On the Road, posing for the camera in Tangier, Morocco, while donning a cap and a flannel shirt. Another famed Beat writer, Burroughs of Naked Lunch, is seen posing in a blazer in the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1953.

Ginsberg eventually lost touch with the hobby after misplacing the Retina. But his interest was sparked once again in the 1980s when he rediscovered his negatives and prints. While he upgraded his camera equipment with the encouragement of photographers Robert Frank and Bernice Abbott, the poet continued to capture intimate portraits of the people surrounding him, which at the time included Toni Morrison and the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He was also acquainted with artists David Hockney and Larry Rivers, as evidenced by a 1994 photograph depicting the two men standing in the shade while attending the funeral of curator Henry Geldzahler. Another snapshot from Ginsberg’s second dalliance with photography shows Giorgio Armani and artist Francesco Clemente locked in conversation with one another while seated at a wooden desk in 1993. Several of the images contain “meticulous handwritten captions,” often incorporated below the photographs, according to Fahey/Klein.

While the later photographs have a more polished touch, the collection does include a selfie taken by Ginsberg while crammed into a Copenhagen elevator with playwright Arthur Miller and novelist William Gass in 1985. His old friends continue to make appearances, with a 1995 photograph showing an aged Burrough embracing singer-songwriter Patti Smith.

The gallery will also exhibit poems generated by artificial intelligence

In addition to its exhibition of Ginsberg’s photography collection, Fahey/Klein will concurrently host a preview of A Picture of My Mind: Poems Written by Allen Ginsburg’s Photographs. These are no ordinary poems—the initiative, supported by Ginsberg’s estate and the Tezos Foundation, will showcase works generated by artificial intelligence (A.I.) trained to produce poems in the vein of Ginsburg in response to specific images. “Ah, Jack! You know your own myth—petals hellbent in the smoke of the ever ending sky,” reads one of the poems, created to accompany a 1953 picture taken of Kerouac on a New York City fire escape.

“Just as Ginsberg innovated with automated writing techniques and popular technologies, this collection of A.I. generated poems taps the contemporary linguistic avant-garde to engage ritualistically, intuitively and meaningfully with Ginsberg’s visual and poetic vernaculars,” said Fahey/Klein in a statement. The A.I.-generated poems were created in collaboration with the poetry collective theVERSEverse and its member Ross Goodwin, a pioneering “code poet” who created, an automatic photo narrator that generates poems based on images.