A lesser known fact about Allen Ginsberg – one of the true visionary writers of his generation – is that he was also a photographer. He began actively taking photos in New York City in 1953, developing and printing his films at a drugstore near his apartment in the Lower East Side. Over the next ten years, he built up quite a portfolio, primary subjects often being his close-knit group of friends – people like William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac, as well as himself. After skimming through the photos and giving a few away to friends, they were usually tossed to the back of a closet. Ginsberg later said they were “meant more for a public in heaven than one here on earth—and that’s why they’re charming.”

In the early 1980s, he rediscovered his old negatives and became entranced with their poignancy, noting they were like “looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world”. Encouraged by renowned photographers Robert Frank and Berenice Abbott, he had many of his earlier photographs reprinted in a larger format and began to make new ones, adding handwritten inscriptions describing the relationships and memories depicted in them. These spontaneous snapshots reveal the world of the Beat Generation to a new age and celebrate was Ginsberg called “the sacredness of the moment.”

Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg is now on view at the Grey Art Gallery of NYU, organized by the National Gallery of Art,Washington, and curated by Sarah Greenough. (Images: NYTimes via Juxtapoz)