've always taken great pictures of Patti Smith," said Robert Mapplethorpe in 1987. He described the collaboration as "like taking drugs; you're in an abstract place and it's perfect." The cover of Smith's cataclysmic debut LP, Horses, is the most celebrated document in the relationship between the photographer and the poet-songwriter, which spanned two decades. Mapplethorpe shot the cover to Smith's album Dream of Life not long before his death in 1989.
The two met when Mapplethorpe was an art student and Smith wandered into his Brooklyn apartment looking for someone else. In 1970 they moved to Manhattan's legendary Chelsea Hotel, where they shared the smallest room because it was all they could afford. "We used to stay up all night," Mapplethorpe said, "and she would do her thing and I would do my thing, and then we'd take a break and smoke a cigarette and look at each other's work." That intimacy informs the Horses portrait: The directness of Smith's gaze plays against the tense shyness of her stance; the androgyny of her dress counters the elegance of her fingers. The cover mirrors the intensity and sparse clarity of Smith's music.
In 1988 the catalog to a controversial Mapplethorpe retrospective included a poem by Smith that captures perfectly the exploratory essence of both Horses and Mapplethorpe's photo. "The Artist machetes a clearance," she writes. "Here one can be spared/the pain and extravagance of the entire body and/be transported by snaking thru a glittering fraction."
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