above photos by me
In December we saw Camera Solo, Patti Smith's first museum exhibition of her photographs in the United States, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Shot with polaroid cameras, Smith's photos of objects, people & places are moving & intimate, feeling more like documents of relationships as opposed to captured moments in time.
The photos of objects especially intrigued me, each infused with the personality of its owner, people whom Smith either knew personally, or through their works & stories. Grainy & often out of focus, & enfolded in a soft, caressing light, the small photos invited one to get up close & peer into them, & gave one the uncanny feeling that Smith had somehow photographed her memories of the objects, & not the physical objects themselves.
above photos by Patti Smith
After losing their life partners, Fred Sonic in Smith's case & Susan Sontag in Leibovitz's, each felt compelled to take photographs, not particularly surprising for visual artists processing profound loss (Smith being a prolific photographer throughout her career, as well as artist, writer & musician). With cameras that have an inherent immediacy, a polaroid for Smith & a digital camera for Leibovitz, each, in the spirit of collecting relics or talismans, traveled & took images of objects that belonged to people who inspired them, & who are gone.
The lighting in the Pilgrimage photographs feels more natural than Leibovitz's studio work, reminding me of her personal photos in A Photographer's Life, & the close range of many of the shots adds to their intimacy.
above photos by Annie Leibovitz
Both women, incidentally, knew each other, Smith having been photographed by Leibovitz, & they apparently maintained enough of a friendship where Smith was present at Susan Sontag's funeral, taking a photo of her gravesite for Leibovitz, from one memento gatherer to another.
Smith's photo of Susan Sontag's grave covered in flowers
more on Pilgrimage here
& on Camera Solo here