WRITERS COME ALIVE through their words, but occasionally, there are other ways to delve into wordsmiths’ lives. “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg,” at the National Gallery of Art, offers a compelling look at Beat poets through photographs fellow poet Ginsberg snapped in the 1950s and ’60s.

Ginsberg took self-portraits and photos of writers and friends William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac in New York and around the world.

Sarah Greenough, senior curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery, said the photographs were gifts to the gallery: “As we started looking at them, we felt they could form the core of a really interesting exhibit. It seemed like a good opportunity to look at Ginsberg’s photographs and assess their relationship to his poetry.”

Greenough said that Ginsberg shot pictures from 1953 to 1963 and had his film developed at a local drugstore.

“He didn’t think too much about his photographs, and he meant them as records of the important people and the fun and important moments in his life,” she said. “After he had them developed he kind of forgot about them, but discovered them again in the 1980s, when he was moved by their poignancy and power.”

The images challenge our understanding of who Ginsberg was, and the same ideas found in his poetry — celebrating the present moment, observing the world — are also in his art.

» National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, through Sept. 6, free; 202-737-4215. (Archives-Navy Memorial)

Written by Express contributor Amy Cavanaugh
Photo courtesy National Gallery of Art