IN STEVEN SEBRING’S DOCUMENTARY Patti Smith: Dream of Life (2008), the godmother of punk is seen roaming cemeteries, scribbling in notebooks, reading poetry, and peeling open freshly snapped Polaroids. Smith’s music anchors the film, but Dream of Life’s unspoken theme is that she is an old-school romantic, one whose art-as-life approach to creativity makes her a sanguine torchbearer for the Beats and the nineteenth-century French poets she deeply admires.
On the occasion of Smith’s exhibition at Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain last spring, Thames & Hudson published Land 250 ($75), an elegant book featuring 250 black-and-white photographs Smith took over the past four decades. Land 250 —whose title also refers to the vintage Polaroid camera Smith used—presents images that appear both weathered and timeless: craggy stone walls, spare interiors, and near-abstract still lifes. Anecdotes accompany many of the photos, such as a picture of a man’s waist, his hand stuffed partly into a pocket of his dark pants. “When Robert [Mapplethorpe] finished a drawing or collage,” Smith writes, “he would always step away and look at it. If he was pleased, he would put his hand in his pocket with his thumb exposed. This was taken at such a very Robert moment, at the Chelsea Hotel in December 1969.”
Memory and memorial are inextricably linked to Smith’s work. In the book’s brief introduction, she modestly refers to her photography as “relics of my life” and “souvenirs of my wandering.” To this end, she has created a set of three slender artist’s books—aptly named Trois (Thames & Hudson, $45)—that provides an intimate guide to her creative processes and inspirations. Charleville is a manifestation of Smith’s obsession with poet Arthur Rimbaud and includes drawings, letters, a short play, and other illustrations of her 1973 trip to the titular town, where the French writer was born and buried. Statues, featuring photographs taken over the past six years, presents marmoreal subjects—Christ, William Blake, and Joan of Arc, among others—shot at severe angles or extremely close up, sometimes revealing eerily lifelike personalities. After journeying through the streets and by the graves and monuments of this volume, readers may turn to Cahier, a notebook whose fifth page contains the phrase “Ces pages sont à vous” (These pages are for you). Smith leaves the rest of the book blank, offering an opportunity for readers to make the journal their own— in a gentle nod to her DIY roots.