Patti Smith is well known for her contributions to music and song writing but her latest artistic endeavour has seen her exhibiting and then publishing a book of her Polaroid photographs, entitled ‘Camera Solo’. These photographs show Smith’s solitary journey in photography and her diversity as an artist.
Patti Smith’s use of Polaroid cameras came about in 1995, following the deaths of her husband, her brother and her pianist she became unable to work and create. This led her to pick up an old vintage Polaroid Land 100 that was lying around her house, to create a memorial photograph for her husband. Her husband had taken Polaroid photographs when he was alive, but due to lack of funds available for purchasing film at the time he would carefully compose his photographs in order to reduce the number of shots needed to take the photograph he wanted, and it was this work ethic that Smith incorporated into her own artistic practice attempting to take one photo of each item or situation.
Consequently, each of her Polaroid photos are carefully considered and offer intimate reflections on the objects she has chosen to photograph. The Polaroids tend to be of possessions either belonging to her friends and family, or are connected to poets, artists and writers with whom she finds personal or creative connections with such as John Keats and William Blake.
Each of these photographs exudes a sense of the solitary; there is the bed of Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag’s grave, a cup belonging to her deceased father and the title of this photo series reflects this isolation. Smith views her photographic practice as a very individual event, when on tour she specifically plans journeys to sites she wishes to photograph: she takes Polaroids during the day and performs at night.
The title of her project arose from one of these journeys, she visited the castle of Fumone in Campagna where Pope Celestine was imprisoned after abdicating the papacy. When she was there she visited the cell were Celestine was detained, the room was too dark for her to use her camera as she does not use a flash but when she was leaving she saw a small room containing a bed. The room had two signs, one saying ‘Camera Solo’ and the other saying ‘No Photographs’. Camera Solo, in Italian literally means a room of one’s own, this combined with the restriction placed on cameras came to resonate with Smith about her own method of practice and with her later going on to photograph objects such as Virginia Woolf’s bed the words came to take on greater significance over time. You can watch a video with Patti Smith about this project on BBC UK.
For information on her exhibition, read Patti Smith: Camera Solo Exhibition.