FERLINGHETTI PORTRAIT

ferlinghetti cover

KEVIN RING . BEAT SCENE . 1988

It is a friendship spanning over twenty years which allows Chris Felver the confidence to take such warm and revealing photographs of publisher, painter, writer and literary subversive Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The pair have worked together previously, when Felver accompanied Ferlinghetti to Nicaragua and took the photos present In Ferlinghetti’s Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre. Felver also made the documentary film The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti - their links go back into the mists of the 1970s. Ferlinghetti Portrait is a new hardcover book which encapsulates many of the photos he has taken of Lawrence Ferlinghetti over the years. So there are photographic documents of the poet with the many writers he has associated with and published over the decades; Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and others. There are photos of Ferlinghetti on his bike around North Beach, the bohemian enclave in San Francisco that has been home to his City Lights bookstore since the 1950s. And, there are photos of him at work at City Lights, not plush modern offices but well used wooden places with, naturally, a disorder of books cluttering everywhere. And there is much evidence of Ferlinghetti’s painting career, with the poet snapped at his studio at Hunter’s Point. Ferlinghetti abroad, at Big Sur (at the cabin that Jack Kerouac immortalized in his novel Big Sur), in Paris and New York.

Felver captures Ferlinghetti alone many times and this is appropriate, as to many observers the poet Is very much an individual, going his own way, being single minded. You have to admire the man for juggling both the poetic and artistic with the everyday business side of running a major American landmark bookstore and publishing house. Felver’s black and white photos are crystal clear, well composed and a treasure of a document - a beautiful book documenting a man of many talents.

 

PAUL McDONALD . LEO . 1999

Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is inarguably one of the most important influences on American Iiterature in the 20th-century. In 1953, he opened City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, California, the first bookstore in the United States to sell quality paperbacks, and a popular hang out for poets in the San Francisco area. Later, he became a publisher and was the center of controversy when he published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, for which he was charged with, and eventually acquitted of, selling obscene material. Also a poet in his own right, Ferlinghetti is the author of Coney Island of the Mind, one of the most popular books of poetry ever written. Independent filmmaker and photographer Christopher Felver has known Ferlinghetti for almost 20 years, during which time he and Ferlinghetti traveled to Nicaragua and coauthored a book of their journey titled Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre. Felver also produced the documentary, The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti a work culeld from more than 15 years of material. Now, as a tribute to his friend, Felver gives us Ferlinghetti Portrait, published by Gibbs-Smith Publishing.

Felver’s book contains more than 90 pages of black-and-white photographs from 1981 to 1998. Ferlinghetti is pictured in intimate, comfortable surroundings such as the City Lights Bookstore or his cabin in Big Sur, California. Other photos show him painting in his studio, or pictured with literary and artistic luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Cage, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder. Ferlinghetti is not a poet overwhelmed by angst. The pictures are light-hearted, joyous and often celebratory, whether he is giving a reading at his bookstore, posing by his paintings or standing in a crowd on a street named for him (“Via Ferlinghetti,” in the San Francisco area). Ferlinghetti is also fond of irreverence, as is evident in the photo of him flipping off the photographer. In another, he sports a lapel button that reads “Fuck Art, Let’s Dance.” But the most delightful pictures are of Ferlinghetti in a bowler hat, grinning like a mischievous Charlie Chaplin. It is these photographs, perhaps, that come closet to revealing Ferlinghetti’s true nature, which is alluded to in a quote by Wallace Stevens at the beginning of Felver’s book “The young poet is a god. The old poet is a tramp”. Ferlinghetti plays up the role of poet/tramp, and went so far as to paint the words “Temple of the Zen Fool” on his cabin in Big Sur.

There is a broader theme, though, uniting the photographs, and it is evident immediately in pictures early in the book. Images of Ferlinghetti at a desk in his bookstore, at his Hunter’s Point art studio at Ellis Island, and other points of personal interest are interspersed with the text of his lyrically profound poem “Autobiography”: "I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks / I have heard the Gettysburg Address / and the Ginsberg Address. / I like it here / and I won’t go back / where I came from.” As you flip through the pages, the intimacy of the photos draws you in, and you realize Felver has captured the essence of a friendship. While this book is an excellent photographic study of an important literary figure, it is equally valuable as a loving tribute to the friendship between the photographer and his subject.