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San Francisco Chronicle

Never seen Beat photos debut in San Francisco’s North Beach

The Beats were shot in black-and-white because that’s what photos from the 1950s looked like. But 1960 brought color and that’s what Magnum photographer Burt Glinn brought to San Francisco.

A New Yorker on assignment for the glossy magazine “Holiday,” Glinn shot the jazz clubs as well as poetry readings and swinging basement cocktail parties. But only a few images were published; the rest were still Kodachrome slides when Glinn died 10 years ago at age 83. And they’d be there still if his widow, Elena Prohaska Glinn, had not come across a box marked simply “nonconformists,” at their home in East Hampton, N.Y.

Two photo editors traveled four hours in a snowstorm from New York City just to see them, and Thursday, July 19, a selection of 35 prints will get their world premiere at the Beat Museum in San Francisco’s North Beach.

“The Beat Scene: Photographs by Burt Glinn,” which is also a monograph published by Reel Art Press, includes work in both black-and-white and color, from 1957 through 1960, shot in both New York City and San Francisco.

Glinn had access because he was a nationally known photographer who covered major events worldwide for the prestigious Magnum Collective. He’d covered the Cuban revolution one month before shooting the Beats.

Pictures of drunken Jack Kerouac have been seen before, but never in Kodachrome.

“These are unknown pictures by a master photographer,” says Michael Shulman, director of publishing and film with Magnum. “We see the Beats in different situations than we normally see them — art gallery openings, hanging out in their homes.”

Color brings life to the can of beer in the hand of Lawrence Ferlinghetti as he sits in City Lights Books. It also enhances Jay DeFeo as she paints her mammoth masterpiece “The Rose” in her San Francisco studio on Fillmore Street.

“Not only are these beautifully composed pictures, but they also chronicled this movement of artists and writers for posterity,” said Elena Glinn, an art historian and curator who will join Shulman in a panel discussion at the Thursday opening.

One image shows a model on a swing. Another shows two bongo drummers and a limbo walker. Glinn wrote a caption for each image, emphasizing his wry New York point of view. Elena Glinn still has the typed sheets and was able to match them to the photos.

“Party given by some artists in a Vallejo Street cellar,” reads one. “The balding man on the left is Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Mulled wine is served — the Beats’ dry martini.”

18 Jul, 2018 Sam Whiting