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A Minute With: Patti Smith on her photography show

TORONTO (Reuters) - Singer Patti Smith is best known for her rock 'n' roll songs from the punk era of the 1970s, but visitors to a new photo exhibition will see a different side of the musician, poet and artist.
/ Source: Reuters

TORONTO (Reuters) - Singer Patti Smith is best known for her rock 'n' roll songs from the punk era of the 1970s, but visitors to a new photo exhibition will see a different side of the musician, poet and artist.

The 70 photos in Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) "Camera Solo" show, which runs from February 9 to May 19, include poetic images of gravestones, religious iconography and objects that belonged to dead writers and artists.

"The show expresses a lot about my inner life -- about a certain vision I have of the world, my travels, my aesthetic vision and some of the wonderful things I've seen, the people I've met," Smith said in an interview.

"Hopefully, it will inspire people to learn more about some of the artists or places I've shown, or to embark on their own studies or adventures."

The 66-year-old artist, whose songs include her rendition of "Gloria" and "Because the Night," hopes the Polaroid snapshots will rekindle a sense of appreciation for the commonplace.

The show includes photographs of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's slippers, author Virginia Woolf's bed, writer Susan Sontag's grave and poet Arthur Rimbaud's fork and spoon.

In a 2010 memoir "Just Kids" Smith wrote about her love affair and friendship with Mapplethorpe, which lasted until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1989 at age 42.

Smith, a mother of two was married to guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith who died in 1994. She released the album "Banga" last year and will begin a music tour in Japan.

She spoke to Reuters about the show and Polaroid photography, a pre-digital technique that produces an instant print.

Q: What inspires you as a photographer?

A: "Truthfully, I don't really think of myself as a photographer. I don't have all the disciplines and knowledge of a person who's spent their life devoted to photography. I've been taking pictures most of my life, but more seriously in the last decade ...

"Light inspires me. I'm drawn to architecture -- often graves, statues, trees -- things usually that are quite still ... I've been taking pictures continuously since 1995 until the end of Polaroid film. I'm taking very few pictures now because I have very little film left, most of it expired.

Q: Are your pictures about nostalgia or trying to hold on and remember that person?

A: It's not nostalgia. I'm not really a nostalgic person. I'm memory-oriented, so a sense of remembrance ... All of these things are to bring all these people and things up to date, to walk with us. These are artists, family, people that we love -- people that pass away. We can keep them with us always.

Q: So you aren't out there snapping everything -- you are being quite selective?

A: I never snapped everything. Polaroid by its nature makes you frugal. You walk around with maybe two packs of film in your pocket. You have 20 shots, so each shot is a world.

Q: Was there anything that you learned from Mapplethorpe in doing your photography?

A: "The one thing that we had in common is that both of us had a very good sense of composition. It's the same type of work ethic but I work quite differently. The atmosphere of my pictures is different. I drew a lot from 19th-century photographers and I don't really strive for the things that Robert strived for -- the deepest blacks and the most radiant whites.

"Robert was a real photographer. He was an artist, but he also really immersed himself in every aspect of how to project light in his work. In any event, we had a different eye, but we understood each other.

Q: How would you say photography intersects with your other creative work?

A: I think of myself really as a writer. So perhaps the pictures are somewhat literary, but I think they also stand on their own."

Q: Do you identify with the punk scene, a romantic tradition or is it more organic?

A: "I was involved in the pre- and post-punk scene in the 1970s ... I'm where I am today. I have two grown children, I've experienced a beautiful husband. I'm a widow. I'm doing my work. I feel unfettered by any scene. I feel like I've moved through many scenes, scenes before the punk movement and scenes after the punk movement, and the punk movement is in flux. It's still going on and it was going on before it had the name "punk movement."

Q: How do you reflect on the fact that you not only pushed music forward, but you also pushed things forward for women in the music scene?

A: "I think I work in two worlds. I'll always try to kick through a wall. I did that when I was younger and I still have my way of doing that ... People have said that I've opened up things for women, but look what they've done."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato)