Harry Redl : Portraits of the Beat Generation
San Francisco Rennaisance 1958

Harry Redl self-portrait
Harry Redl self-portrait



HARRY REDL was born in Vienna in 1926 and died in Vancouver in 2011. He served during the war with the German navy in the Baltic Sea, and was captured by the Americans in 1945. He spent a year working as an interpreter for Canadian forces. In 1950 he emigrated to Canada, taking various jobs in Vancouver as a waiter, logger, and shipping clerk. A friend brought him a Rolleiflex in 1952, and that started him on his photographic career. In 1956, passing through San Francisco enroute to Mexico City, he was electrified by the flourishing literary and art scenes and returned for a three year stay. In 1961 he shipped out to Hong Kong on what began as a vacation and turned out to be six years of work covering the Vietnam war, Communist uprisings in Indonesia, and events in Laos, Cambodia, and China. In 1967 he returned to Vienna for a year and then to Phoenix for the next seventeen years.

His photojournalism has appeared in Life, Time, Newsweek, and other international journals. Apart from his indelible images of so many of the major social and political events of the last half century, stands what may be his most enduring body of work: his portraits of America's outstanding personalities in the worlds of art, music, and literature. The same keen eye for the pivotal events in world affairs that so often put him in the right place at the right time attuned him to those cultural currents that were to have a profound influence on our times; such as that heady time in San Evergreen Review #2Francisco of the mid fifties, when the young poets and writers from New York met with their Bay Area confreres, a period that came to be known as the San Francisco Renaissance. It could be said that this period gave rise to the major social changes of the post-war era: the Beat generation, the anti-war, liberation and environmental movements, the so-called hippies, and the ever-growing interest in Eastern spiritual values, particularly Buddhism.

For many of us in the rest of the world, the first news of these great happenings in San Francisco appeared in the New York literary journal, The Evergreen Review. Their second issue, in 1957, was devoted to "The San Francisco Scene" and featured a major portfolio of Harry Redl's portraits of the leading lights of the scene. In the years since, his images have appeared in almost all the published accounts of that epochal period and were an important part of the Whitney Museum's Beat Culture and the New America exhibition.

Harry's pictures not only recorded an era, but also helped shape it.



Probably Redl's most iconic image, taken after the famous Gallery Six readings when Redl and Allen Ginsberg were walking in the San Francisco night. Redl asked Ginsberg what he meant by "Moloch". Ginsberg pointed to the building in the distance.

Allen Ginsberg, Moloch

In the mid-fifties it was something special to have a brilliant photographer coming around to photograph the outlaw and outcast art scene. We didn't know yet that we were "Beats" or the "San Francisco Renaissance" but Harry Redl's photographs helped to delineate those movements, and helped us define ourselves. Harry came by my apartment to photograph us -- and also to photo Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia -- or whoever else was visiting. Harry did studies of our maudite style of living. One time Harry had two free air tickets to Reno and we took the flight together to look at the desert city of black jack and chrome; other times we'd sit up drinking coffee and smoking black Spanish cigarettes. Harry was the image shaper of a scene that stretched from outspoken poets to Assemblage artists. Thanks to Harry we have the black and gray and white shapes of it in all their stark romantic clarity.
    Michael McClure

Harry Redl had the instincts to find his way into the most interesting circles in San Francisco at the peak of an incredible period -- no small thing for someone who had not so long ago arrived from Austria. He also had the wisdom to follow those people with his camera and his tape recorder, to have the faith in his instincts to create these photographs that have, like all photographs, new meanings over time. Without Harry's photographs we would know much less about the late 1950s and less about the personalities -- artists, poets, filmmakers -- he captured. So I love the fact that this site can provide free access, and everyone has a chance to see at least the tip of the iceberg.
    Steve Watson, author of "Birth of the Beat Generation"

Those pictures are fascinating, and I'm delighted to know that Harry Redl is now in Vancouver. I recall our brief meeting with great pleasure and his particular photo of me became almost a talisman, prompting Robert Bly's poem and all. Anyhow, the last I'd heard of him he was somewhere in "Asia" so it's good to know he's on this side of the water again.
    Robert Creeley

Documentary by J. Rigler

Portrait Index
Artist's Statement

Georgia Straight
Simon Fraser News
Vancouver Province
Vancouver Sun

Harry Redl
Memoir by Brian Nation

Contact Brian Nation
(the author of this site).
Please do NOT contact me about prints or permission regarding use of photos.