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Patti Smith: Camera Solo Audio Tour

Listen to Patti Smith discuss selected works from her Patti Smith: Camera Solo exhibition in these 14 tracks. She reveals why these subjects captivated her and provides insight into the circumstances which led her to photograph them with her Land 250 Polaroid Camera.

This audio is available in the exhibition via your cell phone or the AGO Mobile app. You can also download the tour to your MP3 player before your visit.

Use Your Cell Phone to Listen to This Audio Tour

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Please note that while the call is free, you will be using your cell phone minutes while listening.

Other Ways to Listen to This Audio Tour on Your Next AGO Visit

Play It Now

  1. Use the links on left side of this page to choose tracks
  2. Press the "Play" button to listen to the audio

Track 1: Camera Solo

Click to play:

Download: 2:27 min / 2.74 MB MP3

Patti Smith: My friend Stefano, when I was touring Italy, we would take side excursions. And one day we went up into the hills to see a, sort of, what they call a palace, but, really, sort of a very big villa of a count and in this very historical place all of the count’s things were intact. He had many holy relics. His bedroom was intact-very, very strange place. Trees somehow had rooted on the roof, and there were trees growing from the roof of this villa.

In this villa, there is also a small prison, where the Saint Celestine, a pope, was imprisoned for, I think, 11 months, and he died there. He was imprisoned because he didn’t want to be a pope. He was a mystic and a monk and he really just wanted to be left alone, but the people loved him and insisted he be pope. And then he challenged the Church and, at last, was imprisoned and died in this terrible little stone prison.

When I went to see the count’s room, you weren’t allowed to go in it. And there was a rope and it said, “Camera Solo.” And I thought that was such a great phrase, because, for me, taking photographs is such a solitary experience. So I thought, “Well, that’s a good phrase for me.”

But, Stefano explained to me the “Camera Solo” in Italian means a room of one’s own or a solo room. And, so, I like the double entendre of this word, because a room of one’s own resonates, of course, with Virginia Woolf. And this was the count’s private chambers. There were many rooms – a beautiful room for him and his wife – but this room was just when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts, and, perhaps, and with his dreams.

So, I took the picture, and I thought that it would be a very good title for the catalogue, because it, as I said, resonated the fact that I find taking pictures a solitary experience. I take all my pictures by myself or with a close friend with me, but it’s a very simple matter. I have no equipment and no assistants or anything. It’s really all up to me.

And I also like the idea of one having a room of their own.

Track 2: Cupid & Psyche, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Click to play:

Download: 0:51 min / 0.99 MB MP3

Patti Smith: I took the picture of Cupid and Psyche in the Montparnasse Cemetery, in Paris. Such a beautiful piece of sculpture, and I was very taken with it. And I took several photographs of it.

And, later, when I did 16-millimetre film honouring the poet and author René Daumal, I, again, shot this same sculpture, so one can see in the film its sense of place. And I just find it such a compelling piece of work, so beautiful that, from various angles, it completely changes. Sometimes it looks so loving and gentle. And then another angle it looks so passionate and aggressive. And, so, I took it from various angles.

I love to take pictures of sculpture. I love to find the human qualities in sculpture.

Track 3: Casa Mollino, Turin

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Download: 1:00 min / 1.15 MB MP3

Patti Smith: I like to take pictures of beds. We have extraordinary things happen in beds. We sleep. We conceive. We dream. We make love. We are ill in our beds. We recuperate. So, our beds are very important in our lives.

I visited Casa Mollino. Carlo Mollino was a great Italian designer. This is his private room in Turin. It actually is a double exposure, which I didn’t intend. It just happened, but I thought it was quite beautiful.

What it is, is his bed, but it is also a wall entirely covered with a metallic leopard-skin wallpaper and framed specimens of butterflies. So, it’s just one of those strange things that happen, but often double exposures do not really serve anyone. But, I thought this particular one was quite beautiful, almost like seeing Carlo Mollino’s dreams.

Track 4: Percy B. Shelley Grave, Rome

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Download: 1:30 min / 1.73 MB MP3

Patti Smith: The picture of Shelley’s grave is interesting, because I only had one shot left, and I really went to see the grave of my good friend, the poet Gregory Corso. And Gregory Corso, who was the youngest of the beat poets, was buried at the foot of Shelley, because Shelley was his favourite poet, and we lobbied the Italian government to let Gregory be buried at the foot of Shelley.

And I went to visit Gregory’s grave, but I didn’t have a sense of him as I stood over his grave. And I was going to take a picture of it, but, somehow, I couldn’t get a shot. And then it occurred to me that he was probably hanging out at Shelley’s grave, because he loved Shelley so much. So I thought, “Well, I only have one shot. I will take a picture of Shelley’s grave.”

And I was with a very good friend of mine, an Italian friend, very spiritual, very nice fellow, named Stefano. And I was talking to him about all of this, and I said, “Well, I’m just going to shoot Shelley’s grave, because I think Gregory is hanging out there.” So, I took the picture and then when I unpeeled it, there was this strange light hovering over Shelley’s grave. And Stefano looked at it and said, “Patti, it is Gregory!” And, so, it seems, and whenever I look at it, I always think that it’s a photograph of Gregory visiting Shelley.

Track 5: Cherub Fountain

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Download: 1:34 min / 1.80 MB MP3

Patti Smith: There are few images of the winged cherubim from San Serverino. This is actually a copy of a bronze cherub in Florence. I have seen the actual bronze cherub but I really love this particular one. It's made of stone, I believe, and very weathered. I just find it so charming and its little face so benevolent and intelligence and loving and also mischievous. I photographed it many times. I've probably photographed this cherub more than any other object because I've gone back two or three times to a small medieval village in Italy to photograph him.

I can't say exactly why I love him so much. I just do. It's always a pleasure to take his portrait and always something magical happens. In fact, the very first time I shot him in 2005, if you can notice on the right hand side there's a small vine there that looks almost as if it was illuminated but it wasn't. It was just all natural light.

I just find it another mystical little thing. It's part of the beauty of Polaroids. There's often some kind of problem or a leak or the bellows get crushed or a strange light source as in the picture of Shelley's grave. I find these things, what makes certain pictures all the more precious. In any event, I have a great affection for the little cherub.

Track 6: William Blake

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Download: 0:43 min / 860 KB MP3

Patti Smith: I've always admired the work of William Blake, since I was a child. I read "Songs of Innocence" when I was quite young, and I've always loved not only his work and his visionary powers but his work ethic. This is a picture of his grave. He was buried in the "Dissenters' Cemetery," the same cemetery where John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe are buried, and this is the grave of his wife, Catherine. They had a beautiful marriage. They had no children, but a very collaborative marriage. So, this is his very humble headstone.

Track 7: Pope Benedict’s XV’s Slippers

Click to play: British Two-decker 50 Gun Warship, “Bristol”, 1774

Download: 1:33 min / 1.79 MB MP3

Patti Smith: The slippers that I photographed that are in the vitrine are Pope Benedict XV’s slippers. And he was called “the Pope of Peace,” almost sarcastically, because he wanted, with all his heart, to stop World War I from happening. And, obviously, he was not successful. And it, pretty much, broke his heart. And he was looked upon as a bit ineffective.

His legacy is that he was the one who opened up all the records of Joan of Arc’s trial and canonized her. And Joan of Arc has always been very important to me. And I’ve been interested in her life and her philosophy and her visions since I was a very young girl.

So, there was a monastery that was closing, and they needed money for the very old priests. And, so, they sold off some of their relics. Not their first-class relics. It is a first- class Pope Benedict XV relic, because they belonged to him. He wore them, and they were his slippers. But he wasn't a saint. So, I don’t know if that would make them a second-class relic.

But I decided to obtain them, because of the connection between him and Joan of Arc. And, also, I thought it would be nice for Robert’s slippers to have a companion. It sort of delights me to have the pope’s slippers, that are like a cream colour, more toward white, and Robert’s black-velvet slippers. Robert, of course, was Catholic. They seem like a good pairing.

Track 8: Ingres, Christ, Detail, Louvre

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Download: 0:47 min / 928 KB MP3

Patti Smith: The detail of Christ by Ingres is interesting, because it’s a detail of a rather large picture with brilliant reds, just a beautiful picture. I’ve never seen it before. And I think it’s owned by a private collector in Spain and not often seen, but it was lent to the Louvre for a while in 2006. And I was allowed to go around the exhibit by myself. When the Louvre was closed, I took this photograph.

I love taking photographs of details of paintings, because, in black and white, often, these paintings that are done so naturalistically make one feel as if they’re seeing a photograph of the subject. And, for me, it is like looking at a photograph of Christ.

Track 9: Costa Concordia and Jean-Luc Godard

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Download: 1:13 min / 1.39 MB MP3

Patti Smith: There are two pictures of the Concordia in the Port of Alexandria. And I took these... it was very, very hot and very bright, and all of that bleed and flare is probably because it was about 103 degrees. One was in Cyprus, and one was in Egypt.

And the reason I was on this cruise ship is, I was with Jean-Luc Godard. And Mr. Godard was filming Socialisme, and he asked Lenny Kaye and I to come on a cruise with him. And we went to many interesting ports, and he filmed us performing on the ship.

And I’ve never photographed such a ship in my life. So, I just found them so mysterious, because both of them have all of these strange light sources and bleeds that I can’t explain. They’re not double exposures. It’s just what the heat did to the film.

And, of course, working with Mr. Godard was a privilege. I asked him, in lieu of a fee, if I could shoot his portrait, and he said I could. And I took two shots of him on the boat, on the cruise ship, on the little deck of his cabin, and that’s the photograph that’s in the exhibition.

Track 10: Ann Demeulemeester

Click to play:

Download: 0:40 min / 792 KB MP3

Patti Smith: There are two photographs of the most beautiful Flemish designer, Ann Demeulemeester, who designs my clothes, but she is also my great friend.

And in the hotel where we like to stay, at the Pavillon, they have redesigned some of the rooms. And they took a manuscript of Arthur Rimbaud’s and blew it up the size of the wall. And it’s quite breathtaking when you go in and see Rimbaud’s handwriting the size of a wall. So, these two pictures are of Ann in that room.

There is also a drawing that I did in, I think, late ’73, that has incorporated a poem I wrote to Rimbaud when I was in my twenties.

Track 11: Arthur Rimbaud

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Download: 1:38 min / 1.89 MB MP3

Patti Smith: In the Rimbaud Room, the centrepiece is the litter that I made. This is my interpretation of the litter that carried Rimbaud from the top to the foot of the mountains in Ethiopia; 250 miles he had to be carried in 1891, because he had gangrene of the knee and couldn’t walk. And he had to be taken to a ship, to take him to Marseille, where eventually he lost his leg and then his life.

There is a very small Polaroid that I took of his sketch of the litter that he wanted made for this journey. There’s also a small prototype that my friend, Stefano, and I made. And that’s in the vitrine, and some artifacts that are labelled of my Rimbaud journey.

The photographs were taken in the Rimbaud Museum, some of them. His very humble fork and spoon were the fork and spoon he used in Ethiopia. Then there is his atlas in another photograph.

The picture of the road is the road near the farmhouse where he was raised and where he wrote A Season in Hell. And it, pretty much, looks exactly as it did in his lifetime, so I took a picture of it.

It’s sort of, in some ways, it has the same feel as Virginia Woolf’s river, because you’re looking at an entire journey of a human being. You know, where Rimbaud started and where he would walk. Rimbaud would walk all the way to Paris, if he had to. He would walk for hundreds of miles, and very sad and ironic that he should lose his mobility and lose his leg.

Track 12: Christoph Schlingensief

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Download: 0:44 min / 868 KB MP3

Patti Smith: The picture of Christoph Schlingensief – another great friend of mine and a genius – he was a director, a filmmaker, a performer, a photographer and he recently passed away from cancer, at the age of 50.

The picture is unique, because Christoph was already quite ill, and he was sitting in front of Venetian blinds. And the picture is not a double exposure, but something, the way the light came through, the Venetian blinds, cut through the image of him. And it has a special energy, just like Christoph.

Track 13: Virginia Woolf

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Download: 1:19 min / 1.51 MB MP3

Patti Smith: In 2003, I visited East Sussex, where Virginia Woolf’s house is, the house that the she lived with Leonard Woolf. And it’s called Monk’s House. And I did some readings of her work as a benefit there. And I was allowed to go into her bedroom, which is locked, and take a few photographs. It’s a very humble room that Leonard built for her, so she could have some privacy. And I took a picture of her bed.

The River Ouse is where Virginia Woolf took her own life. She tried to take her life twice. The first time it didn’t work, because she kept floating, so the second time… The River Ouse has some very characteristic stones, they’re very large and very round, and it is said that she used some of these stones to weight her coat pockets.

And when I visited right in the mud at the edge of the river, I found such a stone. That’s the stone that is in the vitrine. Where I shot this was on a bridge, where she was found. She was brought down this river to the bridge. I imagined that this was her last voyage.

Track 14: Robert Mapplethorpe

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Download: 1:01 min / 1.05 MB MP3

Patti Smith: There are a couple of pictures that I photographed Robert’s very humble marble cross that is in the vitrine from Paris.

The oldest photograph in the exhibition is not a Polaroid, but I put it in, anyway. It’s a 35-millimetre picture that I took of Robert stitching a piece of work he was working on. He often sewed things that he was working on. Robert had extraordinary hands and I took this little picture of Robert in the Chelsea Hotel, working on a small icon. You can see the veins in one of his hands and, of course, his extraordinary rings. That is the oldest picture in the exhibition.

Also, I took a photograph of his slippers. Pretty self-explanatory, they were the slippers that he wore at the end of his life, with his initials.

Track 15: Jim Carroll

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Download: 0:15 min / 312 KB MP3

Patti Smith: I took the image of Jim Carroll’s bed only days after he passed away at 60 years old, in New York City. Jim Carroll was, probably, not just my great friend and a great performer, but the best poet of my generation.

This audio tour was created by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, in partnership with the artist. The AGO’s in-gallery cell phone experience provided by Guide by Cell.