Patti Smith, aka the Godmother of punk, empress of the underground, has always been an icon disinterested in fame. It is probably that indifference that has helped her remain one of the most relevant artists of our time.
Erupting onto the scene in 1975 with her seminal album, Horses, Smith merged poetry and rock, creating an inimitable sound (and look) that struck like a lightning bolt in the 70’s, early 80’s New York punk scene.
Fast track nearly forty years later and she is as mysterious (and celebrated) as ever. In the past ten years the prolific singer-songwriter, visual artist, and mother, accumulated a momentous string of achievements, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2007), named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture (2005), and a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids (2010), all this without a deluge of media attention.
Toronto got a rare opportunity to bask in the light of this multifaceted artist when her photography exhibit, Camera Solo, game to the AGO in February (ends May 19, 2013). Tickets sold quickly. Most fans had to resign themselves to the seventy-image exhibit alone, while a lucky bunch reveled in her two night engagement. But even if you were not a part of that lucky bunch, Camera Solo takes you into the private and intimate world of Smith on no less a revelatory level.
“When I’m on my own with my camera, taking these pictures, it feels as if I am in a room of my own, a self-contained world. The pictures in their simplicity offer that world.” Patti Smith
Described by the AGO as “sometimes disquieting, often beautiful and always intimate,” Smith’s collection marries a Gothic sensibility with delicate beauty, revealing a sentimental side of the larger-than-life wild woman facade. Using a Vintage Land 250 Polaroid camera, a style made in the 1960’s, the small black and white photographs are elegant, dark and powerful, revealing Smith’s passion for capturing a moment and intimacy of a space.
“I have a strong relationship with the dead, even a happy one. I get pleasure out of having their things and sometimes photographing them.”
Indeed Smith’s respect and admiration towards artist’s that have passed is evident in her tribute to Arthur Rimbaud, and numerous photographs capturing the items and headstones of Frida Kahlo, Susan Sontag and others. (She has also written musical tributes to Kurt Cobain, “About a boy” from her 1996 album Gone Again, and a recent poem/song to Amy Winehouse. See below). The sexy and unadorned self-portrait, Patti Smith with Thunder Bolt Tattoo (1973/1975) that comes towards the end of the exhibit, takes you by surprise (it also bears a surprising resemblance to Feist), and leaves you wanting to see more sides of this enigmatic woman.
By: Chaka V.
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