Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

Right now, tucked away in two rooms in the basement of the National Gallery of Art, there is a small exhibit of black-and-white photographs taken by famed poet Allen Ginsberg. “Beat Memories” captured moments in the 1950s and ‘60s with an infamous motley crew of writers and intellectuals: William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, among others.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

In the 1980s, when Ginsberg rediscovered the photographs he took, he set to work traveling around and capturing these same writers again, in all their aging glory. The juxtaposition of this literary set, in different decades and different locales, is incredible.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

At the bottom of each of the photographs, Ginsberg had scrawled his thoughts on each of the scenes. It takes some time to decipher the handwriting, but it’s totally worth it. Ginsberg’s reflections add layers to each still that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. In fact, I enjoyed the writing more than the actual photographs.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

Photographs by Allen Ginsberg © 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC.

The exhibit is in the NGA through the summer, until September 6. The Washington Post published an article that gives great insight into Ginsberg’s life and work. I’d recommend reading it before you visit.

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