Affectionate photo album memorializing the mostly harmless exploits of an Army coterie of proto-Beatniks, stationed in peacetime Europe and making the most of it.
Contents near fine, housed in very good album.
Photo Album Documenting A U.S. Army Tour of Duty in Germany
Photo album of a young man in the most fortunate of midcentury micro-generations, coming of draft age after the war in Korea and before the American war in Vietnam: able to treat their tour of duty as a lark, an adventure; an excuse to drink Bavarian beer and go to motorcycle shows; wear Converse and coke-bottle glasses, and sign each other's good-bye cards like an affectionate graduating class. This album records the work and play of soldiers and locals in and around U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt: home to several thousand U.S. soldiers and personnel in the years after 1945, and clearly remembered with great affection by those lucky enough to see no combat, a little adventure, and a lot of hanging out.
A good decade younger than the iconic Beats who wrote the formative texts and dreamed the formative dreams for their disciples and imitators, the soldiers pictured here are just the right age to be formed by the late '50s popular notion of carefree bohemian youth so sternly corrected by the Beat originals in question: The "foul word Beatnik," wrote Ginsberg, is nothing but a "journalistic sneer." Kerouac, meanwhile, expressed a dour miserablism over the whole business: "Nothing can be more dreary than coolness [...] a kind of sociological coolness soon to become a fad up to the mass of middle class youth." Well: they were both right, but they were both over 30 by then. The Beat ethos and vestiges of a Beat aesthetic could not be contained; as the album proves, even in barracks, even under Army discipline and orders, the youth, with their shabby blazers and glasses of absinthe-substitute, knew what cool was.
Shot by a remarkably skilled amateur photographer (or photographers) with a fine eye for composition, the photographs are technically accomplished, with a fine sense of contrast, and a keen sensitivity to the opportune moment. At a uniformed military exercise, he captures some curious civilian onlookers; out in the surrounding town, he takes sensitive candid photos of an impish local toddler strangling her brother. More than this though is the tone of bohemian youth captured, both real and aspirational. The heart of the album documents a core group of friends: smoking, wearing sunglasses indoors, drinking Pernod, taking photos, reading French newspapers. Throughout, the photographer finds time to hunt beauty: men silhouetted against a bleak sky; a young and grim-faced pregnant woman gazing at a leafless tree; cynical children clambering over tank; and of course European women. A captivating series of moments as perfectly framed as any film still.
Read more: Alan Bisbort, Beatniks: A Guide to an American Subculture.
[Schweinfurt, Germany]: n.p, . 11'' x 16''. Original oblong photo album, lacking original string ties, otherwise intact. Paper label mounted to front cover: "Schweinfurt - 1959 / Boudreaux + Kites" in pen. 36 album leaves laid in, each with black and white photographs mounted to rectos and versos and intact spiderweb tissue guards. Bayonet receipt card for a Francis C. Welch mounted beneath a portrait photo. One greeting card also mounted to first leaf, and one additional large (10'' x 8'') photograph laid in. 181 photographs in total. Wear and some warping to album cover; interior leaves largely unaffected. Photos fine.
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