WASHINGTON—The poet Allen Ginsberg, who died in 1997, adored life, feared death and craved fame. These obsessions seemed to have kept him, despite his practice of Buddhist meditation, from sitting still for long. He was constantly writing, teaching, traveling, networking, chasing lovers, sampling drugs, pushing political causes and promoting the work of writer friends. In the early 1950s he began to photograph these friends in casual snapshots, meant to be little more than souvenirs of a shared time and ethos. Years later his picture taking — often of the same friends, now battered by life or approaching death — became more formal and artful, as if he were trying to freeze his subjects’ faces and energies, and to show off his photographic skills, for the history books. Nearly 80 pictures, early and late, many with handwritten inscriptions, are on view through Thursday in “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” at the National Gallery of Art here. Some are familiar; others rarely seen. As arranged by Sarah Greenough, the senior curator in the museum’s department of photographs, they form a continuous narrative. In the space of two small galleries we watch legends take shape, beauties fade, an American era come and go.
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