Beatnik Photowalk

Every city has its history, which is easy to ignore when you live there. Cultural pilgrimages often end when the urban honeymoon is over, and you complete the transformation from starry-eyed visitor to jaded inhabitant.

But there are stories everywhere, and few stories are as good as those from the Beat Generation, which came of age and influence in 1950s San Francisco.

On August 4, about 90 photographers showed up for a tour of North Beach, led by Jerry Cimino, Director of The Beat Museum. We explored well-known attractions (City Lights Booksellers and Publishers who launched the careers of many Beat poets) and lesser known locations of import (the street corner where Carolyn Cassady dropped Allen Ginsberg off to fend for himself, after catching him in bed with her husband Neal Cassady).

Allen Ginsberg took photographs for his entire life, but really focused his efforts in his late career, with an eye towards his legacy and the encouragement of photographer friends. He recognized that photography requires one to confront both "the transitoriness of the moment" and "devotion and care for those of us who are here together in this moment." Learning about the past and making images of the present put these observations into action.

Here are some of the tour highlights, told through photos taken on the walk by our immensely talented participants:

Egmont Van Dyck took a snap of the photowalk kit, which included an illustrated map.
See digital versions of our route: Google | Foursquare

The crew crossing Columbus Street, in front of the Transamerica Building and the Columbus Tower (or Sentinel Building). The latter is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, who bought the rights to On the Road in 1979.

This is a city of books. From Jack Kerouac Alley and the 11 other streets named for authors (advocated for by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Bookseller and Publisher), to this sculpture, Language of the Birds. This site-specific sculpture by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn begs to be photographed.

The site of the old Bell Hotel, where Jack Kerouac used to stay when he was in town. Not a typical attraction, but definitely "Beat."

Allen Ginsberg advised in his lectures on the connection between poetry and photography that a creative observer should "get in contact with the minute particulars of the culture: the street, the people, their dress, clothes, and gestures." This photograph is basically a checklist of cultural detail.

We offered a few words of wisdom from Jack Kerouac to all participants, selected from his rule-breaking "Rules for Spontaneous Prose." This photographer said she channeled the notion that "something you feel will find its own form" and used Hipstamatic to filter the image. Looks like a visual translation of fractured, intentionally distressed Beat poetry.

Allen Ginsberg took a number of self-portraits, or handed the camera to a friend to make sure he wasn't only behind the camera. Described by the photographer as an "Ode to Ferlinghetti" she the lens on herself. The careful observation that Ginsberg describes can start in the mirror.

If you make your own Beat tour, tag your photos on Instagram with #beatnikphotowalk, and add cultivate your tourist tendencies. As Jack Kerouac put it in another one of his Rules, be "submissive to everything, open, listening."

#BeatnikPhotowalk on Instagram

Thanks to everyone who joined the walk, including Instagrammers @bbamok, @fermaurer, @ihnstagram, @zosialm, @troeps, @mike3k, @dharmacrumbs, @yesphotostudio, @barce, @itsapplesduh, @schaefdog, @audreyreed, @wentsworth, Non-mobile photographers George Osner, Adrian Mendoza, Egmont van Dyck, and anyone else I missed!

About the Author
Kathryn Jaller is New Media Manager at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and someone who likes to make things, teach things, and laugh about things. See her work at, and follow her at @kholler.


Unknown said…
Dear Kathryn, Thank you very much for including my good friend Petyr and for bringing together so many other photographer's photos, including mine. I know we had a great time, including learning something about San Francisco's history I was not aware of. Wishing you all and the CJM all the very best, Egmont

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