Photographing Poetry

Elsa Dorfman’s Influences:

Richard Avedon, an absolute genius. Mary Ellen Mark. Bill Cunningham, another genius whose work looks sooo simple and it surely isn’t. See him in every Sunday in New York Times style section. Photojournalists. Diane Arbus of course, Sanders, Lee Friedlander, a real hero of mine. He keeps on going. I adore photography books and looking at images on the web. I go to galleries as much as I can, considering my hermit tendencies. I look at everyone’s portraits. I also like architectural photographs. Of course I think they are portraits… just of buildings not persons.”

 
 

Elsa Dorfman and the Giant Polaroid Camera

 
 

“I picked up a camera, a Hasselblad, on my job as an assistant science teacher in 1964.  I was taught by a wonderful gifted teacher George Cope who had worked with Berenice Abbott. So there was some romance and a science of history in the air.

“Photo” offered me a path to the world. I was 27 and till then cdnt figure out what I would do, how I would live, who I would be friends w. I was very soulful and very confused. Typical for that time in history. I was ambitious. But ambitious about WHAT? I learned that I had great curiosity. That I had a sense of narrative.  That I had empathy. And that I liked a certain amount of adventure.”

 
 

Self-portrait

 
 

Jorge Luis Borges

 
 

Borges photographed by Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon respectively

 
 

Bob Creely

 
 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 
 

Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso

 
 

“Allen and Peter, who I knew better than I knew Gregory, always made me feel I could do things, that I could / should try things. In the early sixties in the US women didn’t have much opportunity and they didn’t believe in themselves. I know that is a trite expression.  Anyhow, I was very conventional, or at least I felt I should be conventional. And they made me feel I was OK and could be the way I felt like being, whatever that was. So I tried things. And the camera was what I stuck with.  But I do love to write.”

 
 

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

 
 

Ginsberg and Orlovsky by Richard Avedon

 
 

“I started using the polaroid 20×24 on feb.8, 1980. The studio was in an old building at 20 Ames Street in Cambridge. The bldg is now the site of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology art museum. I visited the studio the day before to see what the set up was and to get a sense of the camera. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were visiting me and Polaroid allowed me a free session on the camera in exchange for my giving them a few original prints. I was allotted ten shots and I went over the allotted number because I got so caught up in the excitement of the camera. As Allen and Peter and I were leaving for the studio I grabbed a red amaryllis that my husband had bought me and brought it with us for the session. I had no idea how I would use the amaryllis. Here are three images from the session.”

 
 

Dorfman met Ginsberg in 1959, when she was a secretary for his publisher, Grove Press.  He “never doubted he would be a great man,” she recalls. “And he had the feeling that all his friends were equally genius.”

 
 

Ginsberg and Bob Dylan

 
 

“He (Dylan) asked me if I knew where Poe was born in Boston, and I didn’t. He had an idea where it was and wanted to go there. Amazingly right now, fifty years later or so, Boston is putting up a statue at Poe’s birthplace. Also, the security guards had taken my camera. But when Allen and I told Bob that I would love to take a picture of them together but I didn’t have my camera, Bob asked his security guy to get my camera!  I have Bob to thank for that picture.  And I gave Bob a copy of the Housebook.”

 
 

Bod Dylan

 
 

Anne Sexton

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