We Are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1953-1996)
Curated by Barbara Fischer and John Shoesmith
Produced by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto with the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, and sponsored by The Rossy Family Foundation
12 September – 11 December 2016
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Allen Ginsberg, the visionary American writer and author of the celebrated poem Howl, kept his camera constantly at his side. From 1953 until 1963 he made numerous, often exuberant photographs of himself and his friends, including Beat writers William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac. Ginsberg’s photographs languished among his papers for decades. When he rediscovered these photographs in the 1980s, he reprinted them, adding handwritten inscriptions. He then took up his camera again, guided by photographers Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank.
The photographs in this exhibition create a vivid portrait of the Beat Generation, a term that came to describe those who rebelled against the materialism and conformity of middle-class America and embraced freedom, sexual openness, and spontaneity. The qualities so evident in Ginsberg’s poetry—intense observation of the world, appreciation for the beauty of the vernacular, and faith in intuitive expression—also permeate his photographs. His spontaneous, uninhibited snapshots of ordinary events celebrate what he called “the sacredness of the moment.” With their captions, which often reflect on the passage of time, Ginsberg’s photographs are both records and recollections of an era.