Jacqueline Gens Interview – part 2

Robert Frank – New York City, September 1993 – photo: Allen Ginsberg

John Shoesmith interviews Jacqueline Gens on Allen Ginsberg’s Photography – continues

JS: Do you have any favourites from the collection?

JG: I loved the portraits from the 1980s. The one of Juanita Lieberman, from the Twelve Trees book, one of the few females he photographed, I think that’s a magnificent one, the stress that’s going on between Peter (Orlovsky, her boyfriend) and Juanita is clearly seen in her face. And then there’s Anne Waldman, Allen’s long-time friend and colleague, the famous Joanne Kyger photo taken in Japan in front of the Buddha. But I love some of those early iconic ones like (Neal) Cassady as the auto salesman, and the stories that go with that.

I think his photograph of Peter Orlovsky’s family is one of his masterpieces. Some of William) Burroughs, both in the early years and later on as they aged show a side of Burroughs’ great sensitivity. He and Burroughs would get together every year. My favourite one of Burroughs is when he’s looking up at the trees a few years before he died  and Allen photographs him from that angle; that was a lovely moment. Burroughs was a very sensitive guy, and people didn’t really see him that way, but he was a sweet man and Allen often captured that sensitivity.

JS: I think maybe that’s something Allen could draw out of him.

JG: Allen had some kind of charisma but also a depth to his interest in others even for a moment.. He would enter people’s worlds. Some people might say otherwise but all the years that I worked with him, he never once lost his temper with me. He was a real gentleman, and he was not a misogynist as some people  suggested. What he really had a difficult time with was when people were being inauthentic. So he had an allegiance to capture people at their most authentic. For instance, he had a cousin who was dying of cancer, and he photographed her at his kitchen table, up close, and you can see that she’s not a well person. But he would ask her, “What does it feel like to have cancer?” That’s the poignancy. There’s this allegiance of looking into the soul of another person.

JS: Overall, what was the experience like working with Allen and the photographs?

JG: It was a great experience. I think it did coincide with his poetics. I attended many classes he taught over the years. I personally found him a great teacher and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to study with him. We shared numerous moments of Buddhist practice. There were about twelve years between Naropa and when I worked in his NY  office where I was in constant contact with him. For me, the aesthetics of his poetics represents the sacred notion of luminous details of being human (warts and all) as being eternal, a quality found in his photographs. I think that was the appeal to me.

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