Patti Smith Polaroids: melancholy meditations

The Fondation Cartier in Paris is hosting Land 250, a major solo exhibition of the visual work of American artist and performer Patti Smith. Drawn from pieces created between 1967 and 2007, the exhibition includes drawings, films, audio installations, cherished objects, handwritten and typed poetry, song lyrics, and a lot of black-and-white Polaroid photographs.

In a press conference that opened the exhibition, Patti Smith faced an eager crush of international media. When asked about her photography, she replied in a straightforward but humble way: “I am not a photographer…” She then continued to explain that photography, specifically the instant and simple gratification of Polaroids, helped her find a new form of creative expression when she was overwhelmed with grief at the untimely loss of her husband, her brother, and some friends. “The immediacy of the process was a relief from the long involved process of drawing, recording, or writing a poem,” she said.
Many of Smith’s photographs embody significant personal meaning: a handmade tambourine that was a gift from her lover Robert Mapplethorpe, Virginia Woolf’s bed, Hermann Hesse’s typewriter… Others serve as a visual record of her well-traveled life as a rock ‘n roll performer.

Her photographs (which she refers to as “…relics of my life, souvenirs of my wandering…”) become much more captivating when accompanied by her handwritten captions. For example, about this photograph, she writes:

Robert Mapplethorpe gave
me this tambourine, which he
fashioned himself, on December 30, 1968.
It was my twenty-first birthday.
Robert stretched the goatskin after
tattooing my sign (Capricorn – the goat)
upon its surface. He added the
silk ribbons to give it a gypsy
feel. He used to say he
was my gypsy and I
his sheperd girl.

To see more photos by Patti Smith, and to learn more about the exhibition, go to this review in Lens Culture, where you can also listen to a 2 minute audio excerpt of her press conference.

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