Monday, November 5, 2007

A beautiful and intimate friendship - Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith

"The Passenger and those he leaves behind, connected for a time by a long
unwinding ribbon. A streamer cast and caught with joy."
Patti Smith - The Coral Sea (1996)

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith met in New York in 1967. First communing over a mutual love of William Blake, they became lovers, despite Mapplethorpe living the majority of his adult life as a homosexual. They lived together for around five years in all, a key time being their period at The Chelsea Hotel (after a brief stay at a loft on Delancey Street and then The Allerton Hotel). During this time Smith inspired Mapplethorpe, then a sculptor, to experiment with photography; he, in turn, encouraged Smith to perform her poetry live. He was also responsible for financing her first single - a cover of Hey Joe, with the B-side Piss Factory, in 1974.
Smith was the first person that Mapplethorpe photographed and became something of a muse to him. The most iconic of the resulting pictures is that used for the cover of Smith's debut album Horses in 1975. This photograph is multi-faceted, to my eyes showing Smith as strong yet vulnerable, androgynous yet undeniably brimming with female sexuality. The rapport between photographer and subject is tangible, and there is no pretence - exemplified by Smith's direct look at the camera (and therefore viewer/audience). Mapplethorpe described taking photographs of Patti Smith as "like taking drugs; you're in an abstract place and it's perfect."
In 1978 they made a short (13 minutes) black and white film together, entitled Still Moving. The film had its premiere at The Robert Miller Gallery, New York. Mapplethorpe is said to have wanted to capture Smith's "presence" on film and record her poetry and love of literature. Prior to this, in 1971, they had also been captured on film together in Sandy Daley's Robert Having His Nipple Pierced.
Smith and Mapplethorpe were close friends and inspiration to each other ("my friend, my compeer, my beloved adventure", Patti Smith) for 22 years, right up until his untimely AIDS-related death, aged just 42, on March 9th 1989. Smith was devastated by his death (and suffered three further significant bereavements over the course of the next five years). She spoke at his memorial service in New York and, in 1996, wrote The Coral Sea - a book of poetry about Mapplethorpe, and in his memory. All royalties from this were donated to The Robert Mapplethorpe Laboratory For AIDS Research at New England Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Smith has been photographed by many over the years, with notables including Annie Leibovitz, yet it is the pictures by Mapplethorpe, her close friend, that really seem to capture some truth, some "presence" (as Mapplethorpe himself put it) that is far greater than any picture by another photographer. Through Mapplethorpe we as viewers/listeners/audience/fans are gifted a small window into Patti Smith's soul.
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE November 4th 1946-March 9th 1989


Preposterous Ponderings said...

You would have thought that Robert would have gotten her a good hair stylist...and some food! :o)

Pablothehat said...

The little things in life demonstrate what a small world we inhabit. The first piccy in the last group of three I used as a study in light and dark for a charcoal and pencil sketch a few years ago.

Patti Smith..Fantastic..Up there with Marianne Faithful as counter cultural icons.

Divinyl said...

Beyond! Amazing woman...poet, singer, songwriter, activist, artist, mother, name it, she has that string to her bow!

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Yes, Mapplethorpe really did capture that powerful goddess/punk rock juxtaposition that Patti Smith is all about...