“Sometimes, if I crave silence I turn to my Land 250. The experience of taking Polaroids connects me with the moment. They are souvenirs of a joyful solitude.”
Patti Smith — visionary poet punk singer songwriter activist artist — has created a rich multi-layered installation at Fondation Cartier in Paris that reflects 40 years of her more personal visual art-making and creative expression.
Drawn from pieces created between 1967 and 2007, the exhibition includes sketches, collages, films, audio installations, cherished objects, handwritten and typed poetry, drafts of song lyrics, and — at the center of it all — a lot of black-and-white Polaroid photographs.
Smith, who was given free reign over almost all of this very modern exhibition space, has tried to re-create the comfortable funkiness of her own living room, by bringing in comfy old leather arm chairs and a sofa, oriental rugs, a couple old curio cabinets filled with some of her cherished personal treasures, and surrounding it all with a very pleasing collection of her own far-reaching art. She’s even plugged an electric guitar into a Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier as an invitation to make ourselves at home, and even make some music or other art while we are there, surrounded by her collection of snapshots and other expressions of soulful creativity.
By way of introduction to her visual art, and especially to her photography, Patti Smith writes:
When I was eight my mother gave me Songs of Innocence by William Blake, a collection of his poems and drawings. I was enthralled by it and began writing and illustrating my own little stories.
In my early twenties I made large drawings entwined with language. At some point I wanted to hear what I had written, so I performed my work, merging the words with electric guitar. Language, image, and performance, all striving for the same thing — a desire to communicate.
I first took Polaroids in the early 1970s as components for collages. Most of them are lost. In the 1980s I took photographs with a German Minox 35EL. In 1995, after the death of my husband, I was unable to center on the complex process of drawing, recording or writing a poem. The need for immediacy drew me again to the Polaroid. I chose a vintage Land 100.
The instantaneous method gave me a sense of release and served my creative needs. In 2002 I switched to a vintage Land 250. It is a folding pack film camera with a single-window rangefinder made by Zeiss Ikon. Though it can be slightly idiosyncratic, I like the technical simplicity. Near/far. Dark/light.
For a time I had a room of my own on MacDougal Street in New York. It had been a butcher shop for decades and then a laundromat. It was a great pleasure to have a space to do my work uninterrupted. I focused on objects, seemingly humble, precious to me. When I lost my little studio I ventured out into the world, the Land 250 always close at hand.
I am not a photographer, yet taking pictures has given me a sense of unity and personal satisfaction. They are relics of my life. Souvenirs of my wandering. All that I have learned concerning light and composition is contained within them.
The photos are most rewarding when viewed as a visual diary or a sketchbook of some quiet, reflective times of a remarkable artist getting in touch with her own creative muses.
For our own inspirational benefit, Smith has personally re-stocked the bookstore at Fondation Cartier with many of her favorite books (poetry by Rimbaud and Blake, plays of Virginia Woolf, the best of the Beat generation…). And she’s scheduled a series of fun and intimate concert performances and poetry readings featuring a lot of her friends over the course of her three-month “residency” in Paris.
— Jim Casper
Editors’ Note: Listen to a brief 2-minute audio excerpt from a press conference in Paris.