Patti Smith’s Polaroids of Artifacts from Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Roberto Bolaño & More


Polaroid pho­tog­ra­phy has seen a new wave of inter­est over the past decade, in large part from young pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent from what they can with the dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy on which they grew up.

The oth­er mod­ern prac­ti­tion­ers include no less a cre­ator than Pat­ti Smith, who have per­son­al­ly wit­nessed the for­mat’s appear­ance, fade, and return. A few years ago, her Polaroid pho­tog­ra­phy reached the gal­leries, becom­ing shows and instal­la­tions in Con­necti­cut and Paris.

"Walt Whitman's Tomb, Camden, NJ"

These “black-and-white sil­ver gelatin prints made from Polaroid neg­a­tives, small and square and in soft focus,” writes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, “are culled from a col­lec­tion that doc­u­ments hun­dreds of encoun­ters with world­ly effects trans­formed into sacred relics. A fork and a spoon that belonged to Arthur Rim­baud, the French sym­bol­ist poet who has been one of Smith’s touch­stones for­ev­er. [Robert] Mapplethorpe’s bed­room slip­pers and the tam­bourine he made for Smith. A chair that belonged to the Chilean nov­el­ist Rober­to Bolaño. William S. Burroughs’s ban­dan­na. A repli­ca of a life mask cast from the fea­tures of William Blake.”

Virginia Woolf’s bed, writing desk, and gravestone

Smith’s “gor­geous, misty pho­tographs are inspired by arti­facts from some of Smith’s favorite artists, from muse­ums she has vis­it­ed around the world, and many are from her per­son­al life,” writes Fla­vor­wire’s Emi­ly Tem­ple on “Cam­era Solo,” the Hart­ford exhi­bi­tion which intro­duced these Polaroids to Amer­i­ca in 2011. If you did­n’t make it to the Wadsworth Atheneum for that show, you can still expe­ri­ence it through Pat­ti Smith: Cam­era Solo, its com­pan­ion book. Or have a look at her work on dis­play at the BBC’s site, the gallery that offers the pho­tos of Vir­ginia Woolf’s bed, writ­ing desk, and grave­stone just above.


You can see even more at this post from Lens Cul­ture on “Land 250,” the exhi­bi­tion of Smith’s Polaroid pho­tog­ra­phy at Paris’ Fon­da­tion Cartier.“I first took Polaroids in the ear­ly 1970s as com­po­nents for col­lages,” it quotes Smith as say­ing. “In 1995, after the death of my hus­band, I was unable to cen­ter on the com­plex process of draw­ing, record­ing or writ­ing a poem. The need for imme­di­a­cy drew me again to the Polaroid. I chose a vin­tage Land 100.” In 2002, she set­tled on the Land 250, the ven­er­a­ble instant cam­era that gave the Paris show and its asso­ci­at­ed mono­graph their titles. It sure­ly counts as one of the most impor­tant arti­facts of Smith’s artis­tic life — and one with which she has cap­tured the arti­facts of so many oth­er artis­tic lives impor­tant to her.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

Pat­ti Smith Reads Her Final Words to Robert Map­plethor­pe

Pat­ti Smith’s List of Favorite Books: From Rim­baud to Susan Son­tag

Andy Warhol’s 85 Polaroid Por­traits: Mick Jag­ger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simp­son & Many Oth­ers (1970–1987)

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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