'Collecting The Counterculture' and The Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection at Harvard's Houghton Library.

In 2012 I was asked to give a public lecture in the Edison and Newman Room of The Houghton Library, Harvard University by Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts. The lecture was on 'Collecting The Counterculture' and my relationship to the late Julio Mario Santo Domingo, the formidable collector/owner of the LSD Library in Geneva and my former employer.

Leslie Morris is a true bibliovisionary, she shouldered the mammoth task of having the bulk of Julio's library on deposit, distributed throughout the many and varied libraries at Harvard University. The event was widely reported in the Harvard U press and was even recorded and placed online, here     

Bruce Conner &  Michael McClure

Alternative OZ - Carl Williams
20 September 2013

Walking past a poster for ‘Australia’, the Royal Academy’s current show on Australian art in the UK, set me to thinking about the so-called ‘Larrikins’ – those talented Aussie dis-respecters of authority, snook-cockers, lateral dressers, shaggers and thinkers who moved to London in the 1960s. Read the full article here.

Revival: Laura Ashley - Carl Williams
27 September 2013

"I recently acquired a newsstand poster issued by The London Standard in 1985 announcing the death of Laura Ashley. It was found amongst a stack of other stuff: posters from Biba and Fiorucci; a Mr Freedom shopper; Indica wrapping paper by Paul McCartney et al from London’s art/design/shopping scenes of the late 1960s to the 1980s. ‘Laura Ashley is Dead’ was much in my mind when, as a guest of bamboo collector Greville Worthington, I attended the joint opening night of ‘Laura Ashley, The Romantic Heroine’ and ‘Henry Poole & Co. Founder of Savile Row: The Art of Bespoke Tailoring and Wool Cloth’ at Bowes Museum". Read the full article here.

Dennis Morris: PiL - First Issue to Metal Box at The ICA

In my first public event since leaving the old shop, I’m delighted to announce that I have been invited by London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts to give a gallery tour for a forthcoming ‘archival’ show entitled ‘Dennis Morris: PiL - First Issue to Metal Box’ in The Fox Reading Room, 23 Mar 2016 – 15 May 2016. The tour itself is 28 April, 2016, 630pm. tickets@ica.org.uk.
The ICA have described this seminal show as a  “…presentation of rarely seen photographs and ephemera relating to the early stages of the band Public Image Ltd’s (PiL) design from 1978-79 with a focus on the design of the album Metal Box. Original band members included John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten - vocals), Keith Levene (lead guitar), Jah Wobble (bass) and Jim Walker (drums). Working closely with photographer and designer Dennis Morris, the display explores the evolution of the band’s identity, from his influential journey to Jamaica with John Lydon in 1978 to the design of the iconic Metal Box..”
Image courtesy of the ICA.

Heroic Lives: The Black Sparrow Press Interview

Charles Bukowski was described as many things during his turbulent and inspirational life. Genius or drunk he was undoubtedly a poet and one of the twentieth century literary scenes most important and influential figures. Carl Williams talks to John Martin about the life of Charles Bukowski.

Q: In a note to a book that you edited called 'Run With The Hunted: a Charles Bukowski Reader' you talk of Bukowski`s 'heroic life'. This interests me a great deal because Bukowski`s origins and style of life contradict that which British national culture would recognize as heroic. I read into 'heroic life' that a life of under privilege, poverty, abuse, whoring, dead end jobs, drunkenness and isolation can still be productive and can still be turned around if you have guts and style, as Bukowski put it in a poem: 'natural guts defeating natural talent that's the best'. What do you personally think was heroic about his life, do you agree with my assessment?
A: To me, an "heroic life" is one that is lived without fear and in spite of the most difficult circumstances. Bukowski lived such a life regardless of whatever life threw into his path. Despite his parents, his acne, his craving for liquor, and in the face of complete cultural neglect as a writer, he triumphed.

Q: In the last thirty years or so Charles Bukowski has become associated with the Beats and American counterculture, he even wrote for the Beat publisher City Lights and the counterculture paper 'Open City'. Yet, in his writings, such as his poem The Good Life from Love is A Dog From Hell, and also in live performances he was very contemptuous of being labelled as being either part of the Sixties or as a Beat. I know from a previous mail interview with 'Beat Scene' that you created Black Sparrow Press because you recognized that the Beats, the Black Mountain poets and other fellow travellers had no really organized publishers. Did you see ever Bukowski as part of the counterculture or as a Beat?
A: Bukowski was not a "beat writer" and felt that many of the so-called beat writers were not artists but posers. Myself, I have never been interested in that particular movement. My initial interest was only in the Black Mountain poets who were an entirely different animal. Bukowski was, of course, part of the counter culture but not in any sense part of "the beat culture."

Q: I have read many of Bukowski`s personal thoughts in the Black Sparrow Press series Selected Letters. Some of these letters, from Bukowski to you, reveal a warm fragility that goes beyond a mere professional relationship or friendship. It seems to me that you acted in an almost paternal way to him, and as such redressed the cruelty of Ham on Rye's sadistic father, by recognizing his innate sensitivity, nurturing his promise and believing in him. Do you think that there is any truth to this?
A: I will let other people define my relationship with Bukowski. What he wanted and needed in a publisher was total loyalty and complete honesty. If I gave him that, so much the better.

Q: In a recording by Bukowski he apologizes, with no apparent irony, for not being an 'educated man'. Do you feel from your personal knowledge of him that his lack of a formal education 'made him' as a writer and freed him from stale convention? Is this too simplistic an assumption on my part?
A: Bukowski did not really consider himself to be an "uneducated man." He was educated by an innate love of literature, by his experiences, and finally by the streets. He looked down his nose somewhat at what he considered "formal education." He did not believe the universities offered the kind of education most needed by a genuine writer.

Q: An impressive book published by City Lights, and then by yourself, tells the story of Bukowski`s return to Germany and travels in France together with his wife Linda. I like this book a great deal mainly because of a wonderful photograph on the cover, and of course the contents. However, I also like this book because of the intriguing title 'Shakespeare Never Did This'. Sometimes I think that Shakespeare did in fact drink, clown around, visit Europe, fight and write poems about 'bad women'. Is it then the safe 'Family Shakespeare' of Bowdler that Bukowski was thinking of? Or am I missing the point completely?
A: What Bukowski meant when he wrote "Shakespeare Never Did This" was that Shakespeare never had to travel and give readings in order to assist his publishers and increase his sales. In other words (according to Bukowski's idea about it), Shakespeare was free of the commerciall publicity aspect of the mechanics of book publication, and could simply enjoy his "art for art's sake."
Q: You and your wife design and produce books of a very high quality and even your trade editions are on acid free paper with beautiful graphics. Are there any Bukowski publications that really stand out for you and that became true labours of love?
A: My wife, Barbara Martin, loves designing Bukowski's books. In fact, after nearly 1,000 books designed, she still loves designing all Black Sparrow books. Her newest effort, OPEN ALL NIGHT by Bukowski, is one of her best.

Q: One of the assertions of the Black Sparrow book 'Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski' by Russel Harrison seems to suggest that the nature and subject matter of Bukowski`s work was unavoidably political. As such from your experience of him, when it comes to political labels, do you think that it is a case of Charles Bukowski 'doth protest too much'?
A: As far as ordinary politics is concerned, Bukowski was completely apolitical. He was neither to the "right" nor to the "left." I have no idea how he voted in every case but I would imagine he usually voted liberal. (He loved Robert Kenedy.) On the other hand, if you consider his concern for the underdog and the underclasses to be "political" then I suppose you could hang that label on him.

Q: In your experience were Hank Chinaski and Charles Bukowski separate people?
A: Hank Chinaski and Charles Bukowski were entirely separate entities.

Q: Did you know from the beginning that 'Betting on the Muse' of Bukowski was a safe wager?
A: I knew from day one that Bukowski would become one of the best and most important writers of his day. So did he. We were both right.



In 2013 I did a series of three online articles for Apollo Magazine on Acme, Laura Ashley and Martin Sharp.

Revolutions Weekender: Unity in Our Love of Man a Special Event as part of the supporting programme for the exhibition ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 1970’ at the V&A.

I would like to draw your attention to an important show that has just opened in London that is curated by a respected British supporter of the arts, and collector of both  art and books, in a newly built space in Vauxhall:
"An exhibition of rare and influential publications by Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Friday January 27 – Saturday March 18
This inaugural exhibition at Charles Asprey – Tyers Street of rare publications and works on paper by Paul Nash coincides with his survey exhibition at Tate Britain curated by Emma Chambers (until March 5).
The hope here is to show an aspect of Nash’s practice that is not well known; namely that he was a prolific contributor to and designer of many publications and books between c.1917 and his death in 1946. These dates coincide of course with two of the greatest catastrophes in human history (Nash was an official War Artist in both conflicts) but also the rise of Modernism, avant-garde thinking and radical, new aesthetics in this country, which continue to have a profound influence on artists, designers and thinkers.
Exhibition opening times: Friday and Saturday, 11 – 5pm"
 (Note: the collection is for sale en bloc to serious collectors and institutions through Carl Williams Rare Books please reply directly to me, and not the list, for more information and to arrange a private viewing. Also note, that the show is not on view at our private premises, it is at the address below )
Charles Asprey - Tyers Street
Address: 130 Tyers Street
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
London, SE11 5HS
United Kingdom



INTERVIEW "You got there just in time..."
By Carl Williams Copyright (c) 2000 . All Rights Reserved.

The unedited transcript of an interview conducted by Carl Williams, with beat photographer Larry Keenan. He is more usually known as a photographer of The Beats, but in this interview we find another Keenan rooted in an American Modernist tradition and photographic technique.

Carl Williams: I think of you primarily as a portraitist and documenter of the counterculture. However, when I look at your work from the sixties I am struck by the formal properties of your work. In one photograph Ginsberg, Dylan and McClure are posed against a wall and your camera catches the abstract shape of hands and not just three famous faces. When you were a boy did you pay much attention to the abstract work of the Great American photographer Stieglitz? Do you like his 'equivalents' series and the attempts of Aaron Siskind to make photography abstract?

Larry Keenan: The formal properties in my photographs is due to tight compositions, art school training and my 'look' of impact without being gimmicky, just strong, tight images. The McClure, Dylan & Ginsberg photo works so well because of the interplay of the bodies, then the heads, and then the hands. When I was a boy, I took those photographs. I was unaware of Siskind at the time, but strangely, I painted like the abstract photos he made during those days. My heroes were Dorthea Lange, Edward Weston, Ruth Bernhard and Imogen Cunningham. Several years later when I studied Siskind and had a chance to buy some of his work I was not impressed, it looked too easy, f/11 and be there. I am sure I was wrong, but that's how I felt at the time.
Carl Williams: Do you think that photography is the painting of our age?

Larry Keenan: Yes, photography is the painting of our age and I thought so in the 60's when I took the counter culture photographs. If Michaelangelo had been around then he would have been using a camera too.

Carl Williams: An article about you in the magazine 'Beat Scene' reveals that you were a classmate of Jim Morrison. You took pictures of the Zazen Abbot David Meltzer and of course Dylan and Ginsberg are famed for their religiosity. Some American photographers, like Minor White, have even integrated a Zen thing into their practice, do you?
Larry Keenan: I think Jim Morrison was too self-involved to be Zen like, but the others you mention were very Zen (in their own way). Minor White was a fan of some of my 70's work that departed from the Beat portraits into more surreal imagery. Yes, although I am not a formal follower of Zen, I have studied it and use it in my life and in my work if I can. I especially found it useful while doing my watercolor paintings in the 60's.

Carl Williams: I have seen footage of Bob Dylan that shows him verbally attacking photographers and journalists. Did he give you a free hand or were you also subjected to this blistering criticism?

Larry Keenan: Bob Dylan was very cooperative in setting up and posing for the photographs at City Lights Books. I think this was because Ginsberg was involved and Dylan wanted to use the photographs on the album cover for Blonde on blonde. A few minutes after the session I asked him if I could shoot a few more shots and he said "are you the guy that has been taking my picture?" So he put me in my place anyway.

Carl Williams: I remember reading an edition of Aperture that focused on a conference at the Essalen Institute and in particular Larry Clark. The depth of feeling and admiration for his work from a wide spectrum of photographers surprised me. How do you react to his very edgy fifties and sixties subject matter? Did you ever feel tempted to document a darker side of the Underground?

Larry Keenan: I like Larry Clark's photography very much, very scary. Not my scene although I photographed the Hell's Angels and the Haight-Ashbury scene during the 60's and that was tough enough. Also it does not fit my answer to your first question, there is a certain formality to my work. Clark's work is edgier and I respect him for it. Not many photographers can work like he does, that's what make his stuff so special.

Carl Williams: I recently saw a book of photographs by Gerard Malanga who seems to have done for the factory and East Coast scene what you have done for North Beach. Do you think that there are any similarities between your work and his?

Larry Keenan: Gerard Malanga is a great photographer. We were featured in an issue of Chelsea Hotel magazine from Germany a couple of years ago. We each got 1/2 of the magazine to do our thing. Our work is very compatible. Our styles are slightly different, but it is our rapport with the subjects that make us successful environmental portrait artists.

Carl Williams: Are you a Beat?

Larry Keenan: I do not consider myself a Beat. Nor do the Beats consider me one of them. I have not been in jail or an asylum for my beliefs. Through their efforts I am very sympathetic and owe them much for changing our culture. Before he died, I told Allen Ginsberg that "I was only there for the last ten minutes" and he said, "you got there just in time".

Carl Williams: Do you collect the work of other photographers?
Larry Keenan: Yes, I do collect work from other photographers and other artists of all kinds. I have been given or traded prints with many including: Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard, Jerry Ulesmann, Bruce Conner and others.

Thanks again for the best questions that I have ever been asked about my work.
Larry Keenan

Photograph Copyright Larry Keenan

Acme Corporation - Carl Williams
5 October 2013

"The Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘archival’ show ‘Supporting Artists: Acme’s First Decade 1972–1982’, like Jon Savage’s series of photographs of Uninhabited London, depicts a long gone East End and Covent Garden of empty buildings, rotting short-life housing, urban decay and space" read the full article here.

Masters of Aberration and Derangement.

In the Spring of 2012 I was delighted to receive a request to write an article for  the house magazine of the prestigious private members (and also very, very good) London Library in St James. I wrote about how useful the library was in researching drug books to flog to Julio Mario Santo Domingo for his LSD Library. It includes a very embarrassing geographical mistake that Christopher Gibbs  alerted me to, with his inimical style and grace.
For the full magazine, click here.

Articles, Exhibitions, events and personal appearances.

In 2002 The  LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science published my work on MI5 in the Great War in it's prestigious series of discussion paper:
"This paper traces the origins of the secret state by looking at how Britain reacted to a threat to its global status from Imperial Germany in the Great War period. As I write these words national security has become the most compelling issue of our times. Historically, National Security as a practice came into its own at the height of the Cold War when large Security Services in both blocs watched their populations for evidence of subversion and has reappeared again in the Clinton Bush, Bush Junior era."
 Click here for the full text of 'The Policing of Political Belief in Great Britain 1914-1918'.

Picture of Vernon Kell and other Intelligence chiefs loaned MI5 website.


On Sunday 6 November, 13.00 – 14.00 at the National Art Library Centre Room, Carl Williams (me!), of Carl Williams Rare Books, will tell the story of a remarkable collection of handmade protest posters  that were once part of the Felix Dennis collection and were made by students and other amateurs in the Berkeley Political Poster Workshop at the University of California, Berkeley in 1970 to protest the incursion of US forces into Cambodia. The event is free but spaces are limited and allocated on a ‘first come’ basis, see the V&A website for more information. I edited a profusely illustrated book on the subject, with an essay by Barry Miles, it is available on request.

Carl Williams Rare Books

Exclamation (detail; 1969), Smartiple by Martin Sharp.