Allen Ginsberg, by Benedict J. Fernandez

Robert Anderson Gallery: American poet Allen Ginsberg at a marijuana rally with a sign that reads “Pot Is Fun”. Photo by Benedict J. Fernandez. 1963, 1964 or 1965. Large format retrieved from Beatnikhiway.

The book Reefer Madness: The History of Marijuana in America by Larry Sloman, which was first published in 1979, provides additional information about this photography, as well as another one, similar, displayed below. It seems that the portrait by Benedict J. Fernandez was turned into a poster not long after it was taken:

Besides, Sloman had always loved the poster of Ginsberg that was sold in the mid-sixties, the one where he was waring a huge placard at an early marijuana demonstration like some bearded, horn-rimmed rent-a-vagrant advertising three-dollar haircuts, a styrofoam of coffee gingerly held aloft, with a light snow topping almost bald pate like white laurel leaves. The sign, crudely hand-lettered, read “Pot Is Fun,” and the sly, sheepish–no, elfish–grin on Ginsberg’s face was testomony to that” (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1998, pp. 171-172).

Various sources provide different date of production for Fernandez’s photo, ranging from 1963 to 1965. The photo below, with a similar subject, can be more precisely dated: it was most likely taken either on December 1964, or in January of 1965. Reefer Madness reproduces an excerpt from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’s file on Allen Ginsberg:

On December 27, 1964, GINSBERG and ––––– had marched in front of the Department of Welfare Building, East 9th St. and Avenue C, with signs reading “Smoke Pot, It’s Cheaper and Healthier Tha Liquor” and “Pot Is a Reality Kick.” There individuals are members of an organization called LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana) and their names appear in the files of Interpol. (1998, p. 221).

Photographer unknown. Allen Ginsberg holding a sign that reads: “Pot is a Reality Kick”. Maybe from Dec. 27, 1964. Large format retrieved from Imgur.
Photographer unknown. Allen Ginsberg holding a sign that reads: “Pot is a Reality Kick”. Maybe from Dec. 27, 1964. Large format retrieved from Imgur.

The Library of Congress holds a copy of the print, and has it dated from January 10th, 1965, along with the following description (the author of the photo is not identified):

Poet Allen Ginsberg leads a group of demonstrators outside the Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich Village, demanding the release of prisoners arrested for use or possession of marijuana. (Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123108)

Corbis claims management rights on the image. On its website, neither the date nor the identity of the photographer is provided. The photo is simply accompanied by the following description:

Allen Ginsberg leads a group of demonstrators outside outside the women’s House of Detention in New York City’s Greenwich Village advocating the use of marijuana. Ginsburg is shown carrying a sign “Pot is a Reality Kick.” (Corbis stock Photo ID: BE026409).

For more details about Allen Ginsberg position towards marijuana, one can read his essay “The Great Marijuana Hoax” (first published in The Atlantic Monthly, November 1966, Vol. 218, No. 6, pp. 104 – 112).


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