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Beat goes on at H.B. gallery

Exhibit of photographs by Harold Chapman documents Ginsberg, Burroughs and other Beat movement pioneers who lived at the same Paris hotel in the late 1950s.

April 05, 2012|By Imran Vittachi
  • Rolf Goellnitz, owner of the OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art in Huntington Beach, poses in front the photography exhibition, “Harold Chapman: The Beat Hotel and Other Images, Made for the Future.”
Rolf Goellnitz, owner of the OMC Gallery for Contemporary… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

In the shadow of Bella Terra, a photographic exhibition is underway that chronicles a lesser-known French chapter in the history of the counterculture Beat movement.

Through April 21, the OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art in Huntington Beach's Old World Village is showing a collection of British photographer Harold Chapman's black-and-white photographs of poet Allen Ginsberg, writer William S. Burroughs and others icons from the avant-garde literary and artistic movement ignited by Jack Kerouac, author of the seminal book "On The Road."

The photos were taken in the late 1950s during Ginsberg and Burroughs' residency in a no-name, no-frills Paris establishment that came to be known as the Beat Hotel. Chapman captured these and other pictures around the City of Light between 1957 and 1963, when he lived there as a fellow denizen in the "thirteenth class" hotel at 9 Rue Gît-Le-Coeur in the Latin Quarter.

Chapman, now 85 and living in England, befriended Ginsberg and his boyfriend Peter Orlovsky in Paris, while the couple sought refuge from the obscenity trial in the United States that surrounded the publication of "Howl," Ginsberg's controversial and sexually explicit poem, said Rolf Goellnitz, the German co-founder and co-owner of OMC and its sister showroom in Berlin.

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"[The Beats] realized that life is about more and offers other challenges than just try[ing] to be an artist and do[ing] something nice," Goellnitz said.

This exhibit marks the third time that OMC is showing Chapman's photos. The gallery showed them in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 2000, and Huntington Beach in 2007.

But this show is more comprehensive, Goellnitz said, because it consists of other sets of photos on different subjects that Chapman took out in public spaces during his years in Paris. There is a set themed around people milling around or passing by billboards in streets and Metro stations. And there is a collection of Chapman photographs from a long-bygone hub of Parisian activity, the nighttime market at Les Halles.

"The Beat Hotel" is also the name of a new documentary film by director Alan Govenar about that French period in the history of the Beats. The film premiered in New York on March 30, and features pictures from Chapman's Beat Hotel series and an interview with him.

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