Sam Cherry was born in 1913 in Philadephia, the son of Russian emigrants who barely escaped persecution in the Ukraine. His father a tailor, dabbled in bootlegging whiskey in their basement. Eventually he was caught and jailed, and the entire family fled to Los Angeles where they lived in poverty for many years in Hollywood.
At the age of 16, Sam joined the ranks of thousands of downtrodden men and youth around the country, and hit the rails. He eventually settled in San Francisco, where he picked up a camera and began to capture the Great Depression – the down and out, the hungry, the vulnerable, crooked cops, religious fanatics, and Hobo Jungles. With a keen sense for composition and humanity, Sam turned his attention toward documenting his own pre-Beat Generation Bohemian scene at the The Black Cat Café in San Francisco, an establishment that encouraged a creative and lively environment frequented by artists, writers and the “fringe” element.
Years later, through mutual friends, Sam was introduced to the writer Charles Bukowski, who once stated that Sam Cherry’s tough character was an influential component in his creation of his own tough guy persona and protagonists. Cherry’s son, poet Neeli Cherkovski, and Bukowski became life-long friends, eventually starting their own literary magazine together. (Neeli would later write Bukowski’s biography). Sam and Neeli spent a great deal of time with Bukowski, during which Cherry captured took some of Bukowski’s most iconic images. In the early 1960s Sam opened up Cherry’s Bookstore and Art Gallery, an intellectual and artistic sanctuary in San Bernardino, well-known as a stopover for hippies and cultural explorers traveling along route 66.
During the 1970s, Sam spent a great deal of time documenting the destruction of the California citrus industry- perhaps the only photographic study of this important change in California History. In the 1980s, Cherry spent time documenting Los Angeles’ Skid Row, photographing the “new homeless” – a modern-day Depression and a mirror of his youth. Cherry’s photographic archive also includes portraits of artist/writer friends like Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso, as well as important California historical figures such as Cesar Chavez and Jerry Brown.
Track 16 Gallery & Smart Art Press has published seventeen portfolios of Sam Cherry’s photographs of Charles Bukowski. The portfolio/prints will be available in two sizes, 16 x 20 in., Edition of 12, and 11 x 14 in., Edition of 5. Each will contain eleven silver gelatin prints, signed and numbered. The 11 x 14 in. portfolio will come in a hand-made box. http://www.track16.com/exhibitions/2009-04-04-bukowski/pr.php
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