Patti Smith: Photographer’s Muse

3 minute read

TIME asked artist, writer and musician Patti Smith, one of this year’s TIME 100 honorees, to tell us about her life in front of the lens. Smith shares some of her personal photographs and offers photographers some advice, from a subject’s point of view.

To be the subject of a photographer, whether artist or blessed amateur, is a privilege and a joy. I was delighted as a child to sit for my first portrait. It made me feel special. As a teenager I posed for my siblings in dramatic lighting borrowed from James Whale and film-noir.

In the late sixties, before the conspiratorial lens of Judy Linn, I referenced French New Wave. My schoolmate Frank Stefanko shot me as I first tread upon the road of Rock and Roll. Kate Simon documented the early steps in black and white. Lynn Goldsmith often joined my band on the road and within her studio we shot the atmosphere of Easter, joyfully in color.

There have been so many moments of collaboration, both intense and ebullient, allowing me to experience a sense of being a muse, a hot shot, or merely myself. In 1978, Annie Leibovitz shot me in New Orleans behind a small wall of flame for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. In the early eighties, my only photographer was my late husband, Fred Sonic Smith. After Fred’s untimely death, Steven Sebring documented my way back to public life. Michael Stipe photographed my first tour with Bob Dylan. Bruce Weber shot me in a ballet gown and jewels worthy of the throat of Liz Taylor. Oliver Ray, who took the cover picture for Peace and Notice, snapped a moment as I posed for Richard Avedon for the New Yorker.

Finally, I must speak of Robert Mapplethorpe. I was his first model, a fact that fills me with pride. The photographs he took of me contain a depth of mutual love and trust inseparable from the image. His work magnifies his love for his subject and his obsession with light.

So, as one who has stood before the camera of many artists and friends, I can only advise a photographer to love his subject, and if this is not possible, love the light that surrounds her.

—By Patti Smith

Marco Grob’s portrait of Smith for this year’s TIME 100 can be viewed here.

Smith’s memoir Just Kids is published by Ecco.

Judy Linn’s book of portraits, Patti Smith 1969-1976, published by Abrams Books can be purchase here.

An early portrait sitting, 1951, Germantown, Pa.Patti Smith Archive
Practice room at the old Victoria Theater building (now demolished) on Times Square, 1975Frank Stafanko
Performing, 1977 Lynn Goldsmith
Taking a nap with her first electric guitar, a Fender Duo-Sonic, while rehearsing for a tour, 1976Lynn Goldsmith
Fire Island, 1974© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
Boat to Fire Island© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
Chelsea Hotel, 1970 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
An outtake from the cover shoot for Easter, 1978Lynn Goldsmith
Practice room with pianist Richard Sohl, from the Radio Ethiopia album cover shoot, 1976 Judy Linn—Feature Inc
The loft space on twenty-third street, over the Oasis Bar, shared with Robert Mapplethorpe. 1971 Judy Linn—Feature Inc
The 68th Street subway station in New York City, 1971Gerard Malanga
Chelsea Hotel, 1970 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
Haircut. One Fifth Avenue, 1978 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
Robert Mapplethorpe's sole full nude portrait of Smith, taken at his Bond Street Studio, 1978© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
MacDougal Street, New York City, 1975 Frank Stefanko
Robert Mapplethorpe's last image of Smith before she withdrew from public life, San Francisco 1979© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery
Saint Laurent Prison, French Guiana. Patti and Fred Smith's first wedding anniversary, March 1 1981Frederick Smith—Patti Smith Archive
Smith being photographed by Richard Avedon for The New Yorker, 1998 Oliver Ray—Patti Smith Archive
For her German Vogue photo shoot, Bruce Weber asked Smith how she would like to be photographed—She chose a ballerina style ball gown. New York City, 1996Bruce Weber
Rimbaud tee shirt, for German Vogue.Bruce Weber
During a protest of America's invasion of Iraq, Washington D.C., 2003Steven Sebring

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