Document Type



This article considers how Allen Ginsberg’s process of photographing and captioning reveals a project of community formation that reconsiders the position of the social subject. For Ginsberg the documentarian, the image/caption mode is ideal for his documentary project of recording the self in relation to its community. He produces a version of the self that is relative to its community and displaces an atomized, stable self from the self-portrait. His photographs and writings show the formation of a loose cultural group and demonstrate a point of view that shows how the image/caption as medium serves as a particularly descriptive method of documenting a community’s emergence. In Ginsberg’s work, portraiture and self-portraiture, in particular, work to describe a loose structure of affection and desire. Picture-poems open up the possibility of seeing the group’s arrangements because the aesthetic practice of cross-reading shows the photographer’s investment in mimesis. Ginsberg’s version of documentational aesthetics, that insists on giving durability to a historical moment, shows that he prioritizes a relation of “among,” enfolding the many, instead of a relation “between” two. His archival practice, furthermore, reiterates this insistence on a documentational viewpoint that speaks to the historical moment. Ginsberg’s collection, writing, photography, and arrangement insist, in contrast to the way the Beats are perceived in the press, on durability and permanence: they demonstrate a future orientation, a drive to record history. The gestural possibility of the snapshot shows its fit to capturing the ordinary and organizing the emergence of a social form.