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Allen Ginsberg photo exhibit

November 4th, 2014 · 11 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Poetry, Real-life Adventure Tales

Kaddish in Canada


We Are Continually Exposed To The Flashbulb Of Death

The Allen Ginsberg Photo Exhibit
University of Toronto Art Centre
Sept. 2nd – Dec. 6th, 2014

So, here’s a weird trip!

I’ve been going to Beat gatherings for 30 years — and even at the very first one — the Kerouac SuperSummit in Boulder in ’82 — I actually knew a couple of people — the beatific publishers Arthur & Kit Knight who I’d hung with at an NYU book fair the year before.  I’ve been to about 50 billion of these things since, both mega-huge conferences and tiny club readings — but never once where I didn’t know a single person!  It’s always an “old home week” of hugs n howdies at these things … but here I was for the first time walking into this nearly naked gallery all alone … no schmooze, no booze, no wailing music from a bandstand in the corner, no cluster of smokers out front.  No one.

But tons of Allen!

The show’s on the University of Toronto campus, which is a trippy other-world to begin with — one of those massive, sprawling, tree-filled labyrinthian fantasylands of old stone castles and planetariums and co-ed touch football games in the rustling leafs with Marshall McLuhan’s ghost breezing around.  I finally found the show in the very back of a dark cluster of galleries in some wing of one of the hundred buildings, and the whole hour + I was there, there was all of one couple and two other lone women who wandered around for a few minutes … once again reminding me, “I’m not in Manhattan anymore.”



The wall inside the front door.


A funny thing — they’re playing, fairly loudly over some crystalline speakers mounted in the ceiling corners of each of the five big rooms, Allen reading Howl and Kaddish from 1959, and Father Death and some other meditations with the harmonium.  Somehow in clean and proper Canada, his shocking candid candor sounds as jarring here as it probably sounded in middle America in the 1950s. Ya just don’t get a lot of “fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists” round these parts.

About 200 photos are on display of the nearly 8,000 that came with the massive archival bequeath.  For old beatniks, there’s not a lot new here, but … there were a lot of shots that included ol’ Allen’s peepee.  Those pics you’ve seen of him nekked but covering up also had other shots on the same roll … and for just a moment it did feel like I was back in New York again.



 (Taking photographs was strictly prohibited, you understand. 😉 )

It’s a collection of all Allen’s greatest hit snapshots — Jack on the fire escape with his brakeman’s manual in pocket; on the beach in Tangiers; Burroughs & Jack play-fighting on the couch — and most of them printed on large 18″ x 12″ paper with Allen’s chickenscratch captions nearly big enough to be readable! . 🙂




My favorite might have been the bearded Lucien Carr portrait sitting at a dining room table in 1986.  Besides the touching capture of a quiet touch of grey moment between two brothers, photos of him post-1950s are so rare period.  And a crazy thing — in discussions about Lucien on one of the Beat message boards a few months ago, something hit me — I bet in some weird ironic way, Lucien may have been the most widely read Beat of them all, with all his years writing wire copy for the U.P. that went into countless newspapers all over the world.  I thought this was some pretty new thinking — I’d certainly never seen anyone suggest it before — because we all want Allen, Jack or Bill to be The Beat Supreme …  Well, imagine my surprise when I squint at Allen’s chickenscratch under the Lucien portrait and he’s written, “More eyes read his anonymous wire-service prose than Jack K’s & mine all these years, I’ll bet.” !! . 😮 




There was one flat glasstop display table in the middle of each room with various smaller snapshot prints and other ephemera, and the whole museumy nature of the space brought flashbacks of that historic Whitney show in ’95.

It’s great that Allen’s photos have been preserved, and that exhibitions are rightfully devoted to him, but even with his peepee hangin out, Beat shows just don’t feel right in these pristine, fancy, sanitized, sterilized showrooms.  As much as everyone in the Beat world strove for that imprimatur of respectability — me and Allen included — once there, it just doesn’t feel like home — and only made me long to be sitting on some wobbly chair in a small crowded club listening to barely published poets howling out their lives.






For the first-meeting-Allen story at that Jack summit in ’82 check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.

Or for another tale from that crazy Boulder adventure soon to be a major motion picture check out this Allen, Edie & Henri Cru riff.

Or for, say, a Carolyn & John Cassady adventure there’s always that classic Northport Report.

Or here’s a tribute to my late great friend Carolyn Cassady.

Or here’s the account of being at the auction when the On The Road scroll sold for a world record amount.

Or here’s a piece on that historic Whitney Museum Beat show referenced above.

Or here’s a poetic riff on the Beat poetry-&-music shows in the Village that I pined for in this sterile art gallery.

Or here’s the On The Road movie premiere in London adventure story that began at Carolyn’s cabin in the woods.

Or here’s me tellin some tales of all this stuff on YouTube.

Or here’s where you can buy a bunch of different Beat photo prints nearly as good as these — taken at the Jack Summit in ’82, including some seen in my book — from the Lance Gurwell Collection.



Brian Hassett

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Debbie Vazquez // Nov 4, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Hey Bri! Beauty! Yer always on it, my brother of eternity! xxxooo

  • 2 Cindy Wilkinson // Nov 4, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    Love it! Thanks for the share. I’ve got to get to Toronto one of these days.

  • 3 Jason Bowman // Nov 4, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    Funny shit, man! You’re nuts! I luv ya!

  • 4 Alex Nantes // Nov 5, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    You took me to a Ginsberg photo show in New York in the 90s. It must have been the opening or something because Ginsberg was there and it was really crowded. It was the only time I ever saw him in person … and it was thanks to you!
    Nice to hear his stuff is still being shown. The photos, I mean. 🙂

  • 5 Kenneth Morris // Nov 6, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    I really hope that someone that controls the extensive photos releases some as larger prints or lithos. I have long admired the classic image of Jack on fire escape, or w/ his cat, or the gang in Tangiers. Glad that Allen had the foresight to document w/ camera. Thanks for this, Brian. As always.

  • 6 Brian // Nov 6, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Right on! They did do a booming business in the ’90s or sumthin turning several of them into postcards. I got a bunch of them. Can’t remember where I bought them. But if they printed these at their full 18″ x 12″ size you gotta figure places like The Beat Museum and the Beat Book Shop etc. would sell bags full. And yes — ol’ Posterity Allen was on the documenting case for all those years … and he’s got warm personal portraits of EVERYbody — loads o Jack & Neal & Bill, but also Huncke and Snyder and Robert Frank and all the rest.

  • 7 Tess Chibirka // Nov 6, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Your life journey as a writer and lover of the Beat Generation and music offer a plethora of knowledge and insight to happenings I wouldn’t otherwise get to see except through your eyes.

    With slight envy but happiness nonetheless I’m vicariously living through your experiences. Your words fall in the perfect place describing events and insights to me as if I’m standing there with you.

    I hope others enjoy it as much as I do.

    Oh yeah, and your story of how you were at the Dakota the night John Lennon died is one of the strongest pieces emotionally for me to get through. I mean, it hits me.

    And I loved your “On The Road” movie premier red carpet event, too!

  • 8 Rod Mizak  // Nov 8, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    I agree with Tess.
    I’ve learnt more from your passion than I would have ever had time to delve into. Thanks Brian.

  • 9 Dale Topham // Nov 9, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    What a great piece! Again you sent me scurrying to my bookshelf — this time for “Snapshot Poetics” where I have been enjoying many of Allen’s ‘greatest hit’ snapshots, (again) but fewer with naughty parts. It seems Allen wanted to show his dick to people almost as much as Jim Morrison did! The picture of Lucien Carr where you discovered you were on the same brainwave as Allen is also missing from this collection. But what a great group of images they are.

    I never got to meet Allen in person but I always said (to myself) … “If I ever find I am in the same room as Allen Ginsberg, I will know I am in the right place.” Allen seemed to have a knack of being in the ‘right place’ from the time of ‘On The Road’ with Kerouac to the six gallery in Frisco, the video for Subterranean Homesick Blues shot by DA Pennebaker in London. On the Bus with Cassady and Kesey at Millbrook. Jack’s grave with Bob on the Rolling Thunder tour. Out in LA with Leonard Cohen and Phil Spector, singing backup on ‘Death of a Ladies Man’. Be-in at Golden Gate Park / Democratic Convention Chicago / Black Panther rally at Yale. There seemed to be no end to the places where he would show up.

  • 10 Kathy Ryan // Nov 10, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    Really insightful writing — thanks for that.

  • 11 Rob Salmon // Nov 10, 2014 at 12:58 AM

    This is so great. Thank you, my brutha.

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