patti smith, a book of days

Patti Smith, A Book of Days

Reviewed by Meredith McGrane

At age twelve, a dreamy and inquisitive Patti Smith visited the Museum of Art in Philadelphia. She moved among the works of the masters, happening upon Picasso, and her path was forever altered. Smith remembers of the time, “I longed to enter the fraternity of the artist: the hunger, their manner of dress, their process and prayer.” A calling and commitment she would see through until this day. Smith’s artistic mediums have meandered the creative terrain of singer-songwriter, poet, author, and visual artist, while also dabbling in theater and experimental film. Her musical career was her most prolific though. Best known for her poetry-meets-punk-rock songwriting and her 1978 hit “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen.

With the release of her newest creative project, A Book of Days, Smith embraces the medium of photography. A Book of Days presents a year’s worth of imagery (366 photographs, one for leap day) from Smith’s polaroid camera, cellphone, and archives. It is a collection of meditations on the day, musings, and moments. Her photographs are both dreamy and observant. A mix of black and white and color photography, it is history and minutiae all in one. The artist’s images capture tabletop still lives sprinkled with talismans, shadowed sleeping quarters, emotive portraits, haunting gravesites, pockets of light on well-worn floors, and lots of coffee. You’ll see nods to poetry, music, and activism. You’ll see her beloved Robert Mapplethorpe. And then there’s the music! Photographs of John Coltrane, Joan Baez, Yoko Ono, and Michael Stipe, among others. Captures of old setlists and song lyrics, Gibsons and Mosrites, recording studio foot pedals in a tangle of chords, and Smith’s CD collection. Smith sees it all!

A Book of Days is a curated collection of daily greetings that could be devoured in one sitting or savored one day at a time, each image telling a story and inspiring the art of observation. In a December entry, a photograph of Smith is accompanied by a line from her favorite Puccini aria, “I have lived for art, for love.” Fitting, and this artist likely isn’t done!