- Robert Mapplethorpe
- PATTI SMITH
- T-58 polaroid prints
San Francisco, The Friends of Photography, Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography, May - July 1999, and traveling to 11 other venues through 2007 (see Appendix 1)
Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography (The Friends of Photography, 1999), p. 61 (these prints)
Polaroids: Mapplethorpe (Whitney Museum of American Art, 2007), pl. 5 (variant)
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Patti Smith was Mapplethorpe's first subject in his early experiments with the Polaroid camera. Along with himself, Smith would prove to be one of Mapplethorpe's most constant subjects, and he photographed her until the end of his life. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Smith in Mapplethorpe's development as an artist. Along with Sam Wagstaff (see Lot 9), Smith was a key provider of encouragement and emotional and financial support during Mapplethorpe's formative years. Just Kids, Smith's recent memoir of the years she spent living with Mapplethorpe in New York City—in the Chelsea Hotel, and later in a barebones loft on 23rd Street—is an informative and evocative account of these early days in both artists' careers.
Mapplethorpe, in his turn, played just as significant a role for Smith as she did for him. He pushed her to pursue her drawing and poetry, encouraged her stage-writing and acting (although he disapproved of her relationship with Sam Shepherd), and became her biggest fan when she transformed herself into a rock-and-roll musician. Mapplethorpe photographed the majority of Smith's album covers, including the iconic image on her debut, Horses. The two artists' mutual belief in each other enabled them to create the iconic artistic personae that we know today.
After Mapplethorpe had settled upon photography as métier, he began to move beyond his immediate circle of friends and associates for subject matter. Smith writes, 'He began to branch out, photographing those he met through his complex social life, the infamous and the famous, from Marianne Faithful to a young tattooed hustler. But he always returned to his muse. I no longer felt that I was the right model for him, but he would wave my objections away. He saw in me more than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled the image away from the Polaroid negative, he would say, ''With you I can't miss''' (Just Kids, p. 192).
It is unusual to see an early Mapplethorpe in color. Mapplethorpe deliberately overexposed the two images offered here, accentuating the paleness of Smith's skin. Starkly visible in both images is the 'lightning-bolt' tattoo on Smith's knee. Smith was fascinated with the nineteenth-century Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, who tattooed lightning bolts onto his horses' ears as an admonition to himself to leave the battlefield swiftly rather than gather spoils and expose himself to counterattack. Smith, besieged by offers of recording and publishing contracts after a wildly successful poetry reading at St. Marks in the Bowery, felt that the lightning-bolt motif held a similar admonition for her.