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'Ground zero' for the Beat Generation

By Kyle Almond, CNN

Published 0229 GMT (1029 HKT) January 12, 2017
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A woman reads Allen Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems" inside the 7 Arts Coffee Gallery in New York City. The coffee shop, along with Washington Square Park, was a popular meeting spot for members of the Beat Generation, including Ginsberg himself. Photographer Dave Heath was there in the 1950s and took portraits of the people he came across. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Poet Gregory Corso, standing, was a prominent member of the Beat Generation, as was novelist Jack Kerouac, seen at right. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Members of the Beat Generation, aka beatniks, were non-conformists. "The '50s were filled with a lot of optimism, and it was like this era of unbridled success where, you know, if you worked hard, you could get a nice house in the suburbs and enjoy all of the acquisitions required to be a happy individual. And during that time there was a group of people that just weren't buying into that at all," said Stephen Bulger, whose Toronto art gallery owns Heath's work. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Heath's photos of the era can be seen in "Washington Square," a book published in November by Stanley/Barker. "The 7 Arts Coffee Shop and Washington Square, it was basically ground zero for people that were part of the Beat Generation," Bulger said. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Washington Square Park has always been a popular meeting spot for artists, including musicians and other performers. Many of the buildings around it today are part of New York University. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Bulger said Heath, who died in June at the age of 85, was a "photographer's photographer" with a unique style. "A lot of people now talk about the formal aspects of his photography being a cross between Edward Weston and Robert Frank," Bulger said. "The Edward Weston comes in because of sort of the real hard-edged formalism that you see in his compositions. His portraits almost look like these people have been chiseled in stone -- like they don't appear to be fleshy individuals, but really archetypes of people. And the Robert Frank is really because of that malaise that seems to permeate his work." Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
"Although (Heath) would shoot people in the street, he wouldn't engage with them. He said that he was far too shy at the time to really walk up and talk to anybody," said Bulger, who was a student of Heath's in college. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
A man plays a harmonica in Washington Square Park. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Poets Allen Ginsberg and Barbara Moraff share a table at the 7 Arts Coffee Gallery in 1959. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Members of the Beat Generation "really struggled with what I think they saw was a lot of consumerism, a lot of conformity," Bulger said. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
"There was a group of people that wanted to break away," Bulger said. "And I think for personal and artistic freedom, (they) found solace with each other." Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Heath's obituary in The New York Times noted his "alienated but tender view of humanity. The poor and lonely, of many ages and races, predominate in his world." Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Poet Janine Pommy Vega sits inside the 7 Arts Coffee Gallery in 1957. Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery
Heath's photos, especially his 1965 book "A Dialogue with Solitude," began getting more attention in recent years. "People have been coming out of the woodwork saying Dave is finally getting his due," Bulger said. "It's upsetting that it took so long and that he couldn't really enjoy a lot of this acclaim, but the people are happy that his name is finally being recognized the way it should be." Dave Heath/Stephen Bulger & Howard Greenberg Gallery