Patti Smith on Robert Mapplethorpe

Posted by David Ozanich — 1 Nov 2010

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Patti Smith's memoir "Just Kids" was recently nominated for a National Book Award for nonfiction. It chronicles her youth spent alongside the infamous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. That's them on the cover.

An excellent interview with Patti Smith about the book, her music, and her deep relationship with Mapplethorpe was broadcast this past Friday on WHYY's "Fresh Air." Click here to listen to the interview and click here to read the transcript, a section of which follows below:

[TERRY] GROSS: In your book, you write about how Mapplethorpe's work started to change and become more sadomasochistic in its imagery, which he became quite famous for, and you write that that imagery was bewildering and frightening to you.


You write: He couldn't share things with me because it was so outside our realm, and that you couldn't comprehend the brutality of his images of self-inflicted pain. It was hard for you to match it with the boy you had met.

Can you talk a little bit about - a little bit more about your reaction to his images and what you found disturbing and incomprehensible about it?

[Patti] SMITH: Well, they're disturbing images. I'm just...

GROSS: They're meant to be disturbing. Right.

Ms. SMITH: I mean, Robert - I mean, a lot of my reaction was out of, first of all, naitivity(ph). I didn't know anything about that world. I still know very little about that world, and my protective instincts for Robert - they frightened me.

I worried that he would be hurt, or something bad would happen to him, but he was - always assured me that all of these situations were controlled, consensual situations.

The imagery was brutal, and I had never seen anything like these images, but I have to say, as always, after I felt that Robert was safe, I stepped back and looked at them as work, and they were brilliant images. I mean, some of them, there was so much blood and disorder, they had an abstract expressionist look.

I mean, there were a few of these images that I thought were actually brilliant, and so we were able, after I processed the subject matter, to talk about these images as art, but I was never really curious to talk about them in any other way, and he respected that.

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Buy the book here.

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