This exhibition celebrates the artistic pursuits—both visual and verbal—of Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), one of the most prolific poets of the twentieth century.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Allen Ginsberg was exposed to poetry from an early age through his father. He was then educated at Columbia University, where he became acquainted with a circle of poets that would gain notoriety as the “Beat Generation” of the 1950s and ’60s. Ginsberg’s most famous poem, “Howl” (1956), was temporarily banned due to charges of obscenity, before the ruling was overturned by a court citing “redeeming social importance.” Throughout his life, Ginsberg was an unabashed advocate of free speech—he lived openly as a homosexual with his life partner, Peter Orlovsky—as well as a vocal anti-war activist.
During his career as a revolutionary writer, composer, and activist, Ginsberg extensively documented his life in photographs, amassing an archive that now encompasses thousands of images. Last year, the University of Toronto received a donation of 7,600 of Ginsberg’s prints, the largest single collection in the world. Presentation House Gallery is thrilled to bring a selection of these images to British Columbia for the first time.
Taken over the course of four decades, the photographs juxtapose Ginsberg’s ever-changing surroundings with a steadfast group of friends, lovers, muses, and fellow poets. Many prominent members of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs, are prominently featured. The prints extend beyond mere depiction, however, tracing the poet’s literary influences through music, political freedoms, and even Buddhist philosophy. Ginsberg captioned each of the gelatin silver prints in handwritten script, further integrating his photographic and textual mediums. Indeed, the same shrewd honesty and liberated spontaneity that guide Ginsberg’s poetry are also channelled through his lens.