This photo of the writer Jack Kerouac was taken in New York in 1953 by his colleague and friend Allen Ginsberg, and it’s now in a show of Ginsberg photos that just opened at the Gray Art Gallery of NYU, where it’s on tour from the National Gallery of Art. The story around this and other early photos is that Ginsberg took them as snapshots and stowed them in a drawer until 1983, when he rediscovered, reprinted, published and sold them. What strikes me about the photos, however, is that a great many of them are far from casual shots: They show a deep acquaintance with all the stylish modern photography that preceded them. The Kerouac image, with its deliberate “error” of grafting a statue onto the poet’s head, would have been at home in the Bauhaus. This, you could say, was a specialty of Ginsberg and the other Beats: Taking the innovations of radical modernism and re-presenting them as impassioned outpourings direct from the soul. (This becomes obvious, and cloying, in the 1980s, when Ginsberg added faux-naif, nouveau-Beat scrawled captions at the bottom of his reprinted photos. His Kerouac portrait is shown here in its original, un-“improved” version.)
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