There was a time in all of (most of) our lives when the Beat generation writers were just it, wasn’t there? Do you remember being a teenager and reading Howl? Or On the Road? How it spoke to you? How understood you felt? Most of us grow out of that and eventually we think that Jack Kerouac should get a job and stop borrowing money from people and that they should all do less drugs, get more sleep and use birth control but there was a time when we got them and they got us, those writers.
I can’t make you seventeen again but if you want to understand a bit more about those writers who made you feel so understood, there’s an exhibition on at the University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC) that may help.
The university recently acquired a large collection of Allen Ginsberg’s photographs. Ginsberg was a so-so photographer but he was an avid documentarian and the photos show the best minds of his generation, destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked. For real though, there’s a lot of nudity and this link to the exhibition information is mildly NSFW.
Ginsberg took a large number of self-photographs, that’s selfies to you kids, often nude as he crept through and past middle age. The photos document his community; Kerouac, Orlovsky, Burroughs and his life as part of that crazy generation.
Much of the collection has been digitized and is available through the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library Flickr page but it’s worth making it to the exhibition to get some context to the photos lent by the curation of Barbara Fischer and John Shoesmith.
The exhibition “We are continually exposed to the flashbulb of death: The photographs of Allen Ginsberg” runs from September 2nd to December 6th 2014 at the University of Toronto Art Centre, 15 King’s College Circle, Toronto.