Elsa Dorfman


Allen Ginsberg, March 1983. Photo c. Elsa Dorfman


Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, Steven Taylor, March 1983. Photo c. Elsa Dorfman

Elsa Dorfman, doyenne of the over-sized Polaroid, one of the most familiar, and most sensitive, photographers of Allen, turns 75 today. Happy Birthday “Ellie”!

We draw your attention to her web-site here (as she explains, “My web site is my obsession”) – it’s based loosely on the Boston/Massachusetts (MBTA) subway map, with different subway lines and stations representing different areas of interest (Allen has, pretty much, a whole line – the orange line, starting at Housebook (“Elsa’s Housebook“, her pioneering 1974 book, “A Woman’s Photojournal“, now reproduced in its entirety on the site), through to Ginsberg (one of several Dorfman-on-Ginsberg pages)). As she writes there:

“It was hard to take a bad picture of Allen. Nobody did. Maybe it was because Allen was a photographer from way back. He loved to take pictures. Unrestrained he could snap, snap, and take rolls of film. His images of Kerouac, Cassady and Burroughs are the ones we have in our memory of those days. For the last decade or so he always had a camera with him.He went from a Rollei to lighter and lighter and smaller and smaller cameras. And he used whatever was his camera du jour all the time, even at my house in the last month of his life (though no darkroom experiences for him, ever). Allen always had a sense of what makes a picture work. As a subject he instinctively helped photographers get what they wanted. He could concentrate and relax at the same time. He could be there, in front of the lens. Loss of consciousness, no self-consciousness, no reticence. Vanity reigned in by a sense of, yes, style. He could pull together tiny details – a Buddha, a flower, a book, a postcard, a microphone, the right tie (and in the old days, the right political button on his overalls and the right beads) that would anchor the photograph in its hour. The gesture Allen came up with was always very specific and it was always the right one. I felt Allen did my job for me…”

Elswhere on the site (actually, every nook and cranny is worth discovering, but particularly of note): “Remembering Allen” (a beautiful photo-rich photo-essay), “Ginsberg On Sale” (“Watching Allen Ginsberg Be Auctioned Off At Sotherby’s”, a personal account), “Ginsberg in Housebook”, “Ginsberg Video 1974”, and “Allen and Dylan” (photos of Allen and Bob Dylan). There’s even a link to a revealing account of a visit to Allen by Matthew Power, her nephew.

From her notes in “Remembering Allen”: – “I met Allen Ginsberg in early June 1958. I had just graduated from Tufts and got a job as a Gal Friday at Grove Press. I answered the phone. “Hello, Editorial.” I made coffee for the poets and writers Grove published in its Evergreen Review. Allen was one of the poets. He came by the office every day to use our Apeco machine, a precursor of Xerox, which made crinkly orange copies that faded. It was a miracle machine. We hit it off right away. Allen had a zillion ideas and I was willing/eager to work zillions of hours to make them happen. I adored him and was very compliant. Poetry readings in colleges all over the country – A new idea in 1959. Why not? Publishing small editions? -Why not? – I sat on my bed and typed – no electric typewriter back then – four letters to each college in the country. Readings began to happen. When Allen came to Boston he used our house as his headquarters. He made appointments for interviews, gave interviews, made phone calls, got phone calls, brought home boyfriends. Later he would come with explicit dietary instructions – no sugar, no salt, no meet, macrobiotic this and that, rice milk only. I would go to Bread & Circus and scour the isles for the right stuff. Allen would be happy, And at three in the morning, he would wake up and go quietly into the kitchen to eat the peanut butter, the sourdough bread, the stuffed chicken, the real ice-cream. When I became a photographer, in 1965, Allen became a willing subject. He intuitively understood the camera. Pretty soon, photography was part of our ritual of being together. The next thing I knew, Allen and I had been friends for thirty-eight years! How’d it happen? – Well, we each had a knack for friendship, and we each assumed the other would simply always be there…”

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