Hanging out with the Angelheaded Hipsters: About Larry Keenan
In 1965, California College of Arts and Crafts student Larry Keenan was asked by his teacher, poet and playwright, Michael McClure if he would like to photograph a group of his friends. Asking McClure whom his friends were, Keenan was amazed when he listed names that included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Bruce Conner, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey. Keenan had studied the works of these groundbreaking poets, writers and artists, and recognized the significance of this opportunity.
Twenty-one years old, Keenan spent over a year photographing the Beats in their homes and with their family and friends. He began documenting the last days of the Beat Generation with a borrowed 35mm camera using mostly Tri-X film push processed with available light and no tripod. He cleverly made an enlarger from an old slide projector to print his work.
During this time, Larry was living at home, and his parents (who didn't share his respect for the Beats) presented certain obstacles for him, but he continued to persevere. For instance, as he was leaving the house to photograph the McClure, Dylan and Ginsberg, North Beach image for Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album cover, his parents determined he could only borrow the family car to drive to San Francisco after he mowed the lawn of their stately Alameda home. Keenan says, "The entire time I was mowing the lawn, with the loud power mower and gas smell, I was trying to center myself knowing I was about to document some very important events." On this day he shot The Last Gathering of Beat Poets and Artists at City Lights. Ironically, these two photographs are some of Keenan's most noted Beat images.
A former high school classmate of Larry's, Jim Morrison of The Doors, fostered his natural instinct of being able to distinguish talent at an early age. He was very aware of his good fortune of being able to photograph the Beats under the auspices of McClure and Ginsberg. Keenan's innate understanding of the historical value of the images has provided the general public not only with a unique chronology and reportage of this era, but also with a timeless rendering of the spirit of the Beat poets and artists. Much of this work, shown at the Whitney Museum in New York, Walker Art Center of Minneapolis and the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco, in the exhibit Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965 and in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery show Rebels: Beat Artists and Poets, are the icon images that represent these exhibitions.
Larry Keenan is a recipient of the prized Phelan Award for his fine art photography. He is an award-winning advertising and corporate photographer who specializes in combining the traditional medium of photography with the contemporary digital platform. Larry's unique vision and style are his trademark, and clearly illustrated in his enduring fine art and commercial work of today.