Patti Smith has teamed up with her long-time friend and legendary rock photographer Lynn Goldsmith to release Before Easter After, a limited edition book featuring many unseen photographs of Smith from the mid- to late-1970s.
Priced at $700 and limited to 1,300 editions, signed by both Smith and Goldsmith, the book is a hefty investment. But better that than being stashed in a box on a shelf in Goldsmith’s closet.
The “Easter” in the book’s title refers to Smith’s 1978 album ‘Easter’, which contains her most popular song “Because The Night.” Thus, the book spans the period before ‘Easter’, from the days after her 1975 debut ‘Horses’ through 1976’s ‘Radio Ethiopia’ and the period immediately after Easter.
Goldsmith toured with the Patti Smith Group, documenting performances at the legendary CBGB in New York and the 1977 show in Tampa, Florida in support of ‘Radio Ethiopia’ when she fell off a stage and broke her neck.
The photographs immortalise a golden era of rock’n’roll and highlight a partnership between two artists at arguably their most influential period. Released on October 28, it comes a month after Smith’s new memoir Year Of The Monkey, includes an introduction penned by Smith, as well as her poetry and lyrics interspersed throughout the book. Additionally, it has Goldsmith’s notes about the photos, mostly about the clothes Smith wore, resulting in a detailed look at both artists.
Smith and Goldsmith were in Chicago last week taking part in a discussion about their collaboration at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Their hour-long discussion, moderated by MCA curator Michael Darling, focused mostly on their longtime friendship and details of the photos in the book, but both had plenty to say about other things as well.
Goldsmith, who would also become a recording artist and film director, said at the time she never thought she would be able to make a living taking pictures. “They made me me feel more connected to myself, to a community, and I think when I started taking pictures of Patti it really put a fire into my realisation of how images could in fact be so powerful.”
For Smith, working with Goldsmith was different than working with other photographers, most notably Robert Mapplethorpe, her one-time partner and the subject of her 2010 award-winning memoir Just Kids.
“Working with Lynn [Goldsmith] was different than other people I had worked with, great artists who perhaps had one way of working. Robert Mapplethorpe liked working in a studio. I worked a lot with Judy Lynn and we worked in another way. With Lynn [Goldsmith], we just skirted all over the place. I have a love of fashion so we took a lot of pictures that had more fashion conscious elements to them. Not self-conscious, but a conscious love of fashion.”
Indeed, several of the photographs in the book, both in black and white and colour, show Smith in various sartorial poses, often wearing thrift-store clothes that she liked or a black leather motorcycle jacket, or using things like a cotton sheet wrapped around her head to give a mysterious look.
So, what sets apart Goldsmith from other photographers? Trust, Smith says. “She looks to find the one that shows the best quality, the best light, that shows her the best as a photographer and myself as a subject,” she said. “I’ve never felt exploited by her or that she was trying to show me in an unflattering light or catch me in some weird state. We trust each other.”
The New York scene in those days was quite different to what it is now, Smith said. “It was a broken city at the time. It was dangerous, it was gritty. It was nearly bankrupt, so there were young people from all over America who came there because nobody cared what you looked like. You could get a job at a bookstore or as a waiter or waitress and at night be an actress. There was a huge community of people escaping from areas in America where they were marginalised because of their gender, because of their sexual persuasion, or just because they wanted to be an artist,” Smith said.
“I think the difference between now and then is that I don’t think we were searching for labels and to mark who we were,” Smith said. “The idea was to shed labels, to be beyond gender, to be beyond this preoccupation whether you are a female artist, a male artist, a black artist, whatever persuasion you chose. That was the idea then, and then things shifted and we are living in a different culture. We’re living in a culture where people are struggling in the same way that we were. We were leaving places where we weren’t accepted and finding a community. Back then it was New York City. Now, there’s a global community that people are finding through identifying themselves.”
Comparing generations, Smith, who jokingly called herself and Goldsmith “dinosaurs,” said the youth of today have taken the baton from her generation when it comes to taking on social and political issues.
“We marched. We marched against Vietnam, we marched for Civil Rights by the thousands and look at the young people now,” Smith said. “They are marching because of climate change… and we can say all types of things like, ‘They look at their phones all day,’ but they are fucking out there, and we’re not.”
Before Easter After certainly captures a place and time that can never be duplicated, a time-capsule of young, struggling artists doing what turned out to be revolutionary work. And it’s the work that both artists said hasn’t changed — the work being the key to success.
“I’m sure Lynn would agree with me on this, we’re workers,” Smith said. “We have our friendship but we also have at our center, a work-centric friendship. Both of us have a strong work ethic. To be an artist, to be a writer, to do anything, if you have a calling or vocation, you have to really be ready to sacrifice, labor, work hard, to not be appreciated, to be looked down on or be misinterpreted. It’s not an easy feat being a poet or any type of artist. You have to decide what you want. Do you want to do something great? Do you want to astonish? Do you want to kick through doors? If you do, it’s a hard road. If you want to be rich and famous, that’s a different road, but to get either one of them you have to work hard. Poets work hard and so do pop stars so if you want to get anywhere in the world, you have to be ready to work.”