Media Releases

Major collection of Allen Ginsberg photos donated to the University of Toronto

January 21, 2014

TORONTO, ON – The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is home to the world’s largest col­lec­tion of pho­tographs by the late beat poet Allen Gins­berg thanks to a dona­tion by the Lar­ry & Cook­ie Rossy Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion.

The 7,686 pho­tographs housed in the Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library and 236 sil­ver gelatin prints at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Art Cen­tre include por­traits of fig­ures as promi­nent as John Cage, Bob Dylan, William de Koon­ing, Paul McCart­ney and Iggy Pop.

Com­pris­ing a near­ly com­plete archive of Ginsberg’s sur­viv­ing pho­tographs, the col­lec­tion, span­ning the years 1944 to 1997, includes orig­i­nal snap­shots and prints of var­i­ous sizes. The sil­ver gelatin prints are unique in that they are hand-cap­tioned by Gins­berg. All of these images will be avail­able to schol­ars and some will be on dis­play.

“This is an excit­ing and remark­able gift,” says U of T Pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler. “It builds on U of T’s strength as one of the world’s great­est research resources, and our glob­al stature in the human­i­ties. We are very grate­ful to the Lar­ry & Cook­ie Rossy Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion for entrust­ing us with this tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion.”

Allen Gins­berg (1926–1997) was an Amer­i­can poet and non­con­formist whose influ­ence extend­ed far beyond the Unit­ed States. Along with his friends Jack Ker­ouac, William S. Bur­roughs and Gre­go­ry Cor­so, Gins­berg was at the cen­tre of a net­work of writ­ers and artists dubbed the Beat Gen­er­a­tion. In the 1950s and 1960s their work and their per­son­al exam­ple would for­ev­er alter the cul­tur­al scene. The Beats also influ­enced post­mod­ern and avant-garde Cana­di­an poet­ry.

Although known pri­mar­i­ly as a writer, Gins­berg was an avid pho­tog­ra­ph­er. The col­lec­tion includes images of writ­ers Amiri Bara­ka (for­mer­ly known as LeRoi Jones), Paul Bowles, Doris Less­ing, Josef Skvorecky (who was a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at U of T) and Evge­ny Yev­tushenko. Oth­er Gins­berg sub­jects were pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Frank, psy­chol­o­gist R.D. Laing, author and activist Dr. Ben­jamin Spock and psy­chol­o­gist and drug guru Tim­o­thy Leary. Ginsberg’s friend and fel­low writer Bur­roughs appears in more than 300 pho­tographs. Anoth­er fre­quent sub­ject is Ginsberg’s life­long part­ner, Peter Orlovsky.

The Gins­berg prints pro­vide visu­al insight into New York’s urban land­scape from the 1950s to the 1990s. They also doc­u­ment Ginsberg’s inter­na­tion­al trav­els to Cana­da, France, India, Mex­i­co, Moroc­co, Nicaragua, the USSR and many oth­er nations.

“This con­sti­tutes the ulti­mate ‘insid­er’ group of pho­tographs on the Beats,” says Anne Don­dert­man, Asso­ciate Librar­i­an for Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries. “It con­tains impor­tant research mate­r­i­al for the study of the life, fam­i­ly, work, trav­els and friend­ships of Allen Gins­berg from the 1940s to the 1990s,”

“This fab­u­lous col­lec­tion pro­vides both schol­ars and stu­dents unique entrée to Ginsberg’s pas­sion­ate eye and helps to con­firm his sta­tus as a major 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet with the cam­era,” adds Louis Kaplan, Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry and The­o­ry of Pho­tog­ra­phy and New Media, Grad­u­ate Depart­ment of Art. “One can­not over­es­ti­mate its pho­to-his­tor­i­cal, ped­a­gog­i­cal and cul­tur­al val­ue.”

Many of the prints have been dig­i­tized and are avail­able via the Fish­er Library’s Flickr site at and the UTAC Col­lec­tions Online por­tal which can be accessed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Art Centre’s home­page at This fall UTAC, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Fish­er Library, will present an exhi­bi­tion of the Gins­berg pho­tographs.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries sys­tem is the largest aca­d­e­m­ic library in Cana­da and is ranked third among peer insti­tu­tions in North Amer­i­ca, behind Har­vard and Yale. The sys­tem con­sists of 44 libraries locat­ed on three uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es. Its Thomas Fish­er Rare Book Library hous­es the Depart­ment of Rare Books and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions includ­ing books, man­u­scripts and oth­er mate­ri­als, and is the largest rare book library in the coun­try. For more infor­ma­tion about the Fish­er Library’s col­lec­tions, vis­it

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Art Cen­tre is the third largest fine art gallery in Toron­to, and home to three col­lec­tions com­pris­ing more than 6,000 objects. Col­lec­tion high­lights include works by Euro­pean Old Mas­ters and the ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry avant-garde as well as the Group of Sev­en, and Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary Cana­di­an artists.

The Mon­tre­al-based Lar­ry & Cook­ie Rossy Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion was estab­lished by Lar­ry Rossy, founder and CEO of Dol­lara­ma Inc.

Bound­less: The Cam­paign for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is the most ambi­tious fundrais­ing ini­tia­tive ever under­tak­en by a Cana­di­an uni­ver­si­ty. Meet­ing glob­al chal­lenges and prepar­ing glob­al cit­i­zens are the twin pil­lars of the cam­paign, which will sup­port the explo­ration of new fron­tiers and the lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of human expe­ri­ence. This gift will pro­vide stu­dents and fac­ul­ty alike with a new oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore human expres­sion and social progress. Bound­less has sur­passed the mile­stone of $1.35 bil­lion, more than two-thirds of the goal of $2 bil­lion.


 For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Anne Don­dert­man | Asso­ciate Librar­i­an, Spe­cial Col­lec­tions | Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Libraries | | 416–978-5332

Mau­reen Smith | Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Art Cen­tre |