Friday, March 18, 2005

The Case of the Missing Photographs

I'm not sure if photographs count as bibliographic history, but here is an interesting case. There are many published books of photographs of the Beat generation. To name a few:

Beats & Company: A Portrait of a Literary Generation

Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era

Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich Village

Scenes Along the Road: Photographs of the Desolation Angels, 1944-1960

Postcards From The Underground: Portraits from the Beat Era: A Book of 20 Black-and-White Postcards

So here is my question: Where are the women? I can give several reasons why women writers of the Beat generation were barely published. They were busy raising families, out making money to support their men, their writing under-recognized. But to be photographically erased seems an entirely different matter. I suppose the real question is whether there are photographs of Beat women languishing away in personal collections and archives (after all, many of these women are still living), or whether the men just didn’t deem them important or “there” enough to record in photographs. The published photographic histories often feature images of the more obscure and less recognized male figures of the era, but you’ll find only a handful of photographs of women.

Joyce Johnson writes in her memoir Minor Characters, originally published in 1983, that she’s never even seen photographs of Joan Vollmer Burroughs, William Burroughs’ common-law wife whom he accidentally shot to death in 1951, or Edie Parker, Jack Kerouac’s first wife. I did, in fact, find photographs of these two women in Jack Kerouac: An Illustrated Biography. (P.S. April 20, 2005 -- Unfortunately, I just located a pretty gruesome after-death photograph of Joan on the web, which I am choosing not to share.)

Then, of course, there is the question of who was taking all those pictures of the Beat men. In Breaking the Rule of Cool, Ronna C. Johnson reprints an amusing poem by Joanne Kyger from her collection, Again: Poems, 1989-2000:

“Poison Oak for Allen”

Here I am reading about your trip to India again,
with Gary Snyder and Peter Orlovsky. Period.
Who took the picture of you three

With smart Himalayan backdrop
The bear?

-- September 2, 1996

In 1962 Joanne Kyger, then married to Gary Snyder, traveled to India with Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky. The trip is chronicled in Kyger's recently republished journals, Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals: 1960-1964. Funnily enough, I did stumble across some pictures from this infamous trip on the excellent web site of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. Click on the numbers to view them: 1, 2, 3.

Finally, Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation, features several pictures borrowed from the personal collections of ruth weiss, Ann Charters, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones, and Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser) that I have never seen printed elsewhere.


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