Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Art

Striking portraits of Patti Smith taken by photographer Gijsbert Hanekroot, 1978

@SamWKemp

Patti Smith is one of those figures who must have been born in black and white. In practically all of the photographs taken of her in the 1970s, she floats in a monochrome world, wild-eyed and sparrowlike. She seems entirely herself: an unnervingly assertive presence with the abundant energy of a sticky-fingered child. It is this version of Patti Smith we see most clearly in Gibsvbert Henekroot’s photos of Smith, taken in 1978.

Patti Smith is a fascinating case. She is almost universally accepted as one of the most iconic auteurs of the New York punk scene despite having just one hit single: her 1978 track ‘Because The Night’, co-written by Bruce Springsteen and featured on Horses, possibly the most continually-praised new wave album of the era. While her fans are more abundant than ever, few are familiar with Smith’s albums beyond Easter. For many, she is less a musical icon than an emblem of outsiderness – an unlocatable swirl of creativity that occupies a hinterland somewhere between novelist, poet, songwriter and performance artist. In this way, she does not simply speak for the buzz of musical innovation that pulsed through New York in the 1970s but the theatre, literature, fashion and photography that formed the backdrop of the US punk movement.

Born in Brussels in 1945, Dutch photographer Gijsbert Hanekroot started his career photographing the rockers of the 1960s, before going on to capture some of the most prominent musicians of the new wave era. In these photographs, it’s easy to see why Smith has come to embody that blissfully uninhibited moment in America’s cultural life. One moment she is staring into the lens with the hypnotic gaze of a high-fashion model; the next she is laughing uncontrollably in a mock salute, her lips pinned back to reveal a line of straight white teeth. She seems uncontrollable, anarchical, and completely unaware of herself.

Few figures of the era were able to be so utterly themselves as Patti Smith. Taken in Studio Berenstraat, Amsterdam, these photos evoke the unguarded Robert Mapplethorpe portrait that served as the cover for 1975’s Horses, a piece of artwork that, with its stark simplicity, stood in contrast to the prog-rock aesthetics of groups like Pink Floyd and Genesis. Here again, Smith is captured in the simplest of terms. With no background to distract us from her complex features, we are forced to meet the musician on her own terms.

Occasionally, the character we are met with is intimidating and deliberately callous; other times, she is warm and inviting. Either way, it’s all Patti Smith, a figure – Henekroot’s camera suggests – formed of composite layers. In this stunning selection of photographs taken while Smith was on tour with The Patti Smith Group in Europe, each of these layers is peeled away and held up to the light. With the release of Easter just around the corner and her first non-American tour underway, they capture a punk icon at a moment of becoming. Make sure you check out the full selection below.

(Credit: Alamy)