Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

The History of the Beats In Pictures

THE BEAT SCENE. Photographs by Burt Glinn. Essay by Jack Kerouac. Reel Art Press.

Cover courtesy of Reel Art Press.

Burt Glinn, who launched his career with Life Magazine and died in 2008, was a master of the camera – an artist able to memorialize the moment on film as it happened. In turn, these pictures serve as the quintessential visual chronicle of the Beat Generation while simultaneously illuminating Glinn’s most enduring work. Paired with Jack Kerouac’s brilliant essay, “And This is the Beat Nightlife of New York,” The Beat Scene brings us the history of our last true literary movement in pictures. What’s most notable about these many never-before-seen snaps is found in the way Glinn was able to capture the energy of the times via the ache and depth and motion of the faces before him. There is no better example of this than in the photo of a young Jack Kerouac in a cap reading to a small coffee club audience somewhere in the Village. Also check out the snaps of a twenty-something Gregory Corso that show all of the poet’s mischief and wit (in addition to the poignant joy Glinn finds in the shot of LeRoi Jones holding his newborn child). In the end, The Beat Scene is as good as pictorial studies get – an indispensable summary of a Generation that still continues to haunt and inspire.

by John Aiello


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