The Cover Uncovered: A peek behind the photoshoot of Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’
Patti Smith’s stunning 1975 album Horses will go down in history as one of the most iconic LPs to come out of the New York punk scene. The seminal record from Smith wasn’t only a sonically incredible album but its cover has remained one of the most iconic images of the 1970s. The story behind the stark and beautiful image is a beautiful reminder of love and friendship.
However iconic the image may be, with Patti in black and white standing strong and confident against a blank wall, the beauty of the image is held in the truth of the relationship of Patti and her photographer and boyfriend/partner of the time the legendary photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe.
In Smith’s memoirs ‘Just Kids’ she recalls this vibrant love affair of minds and bodies with a beautifully delicate and adoring tone. Offering up her side of the story of an integral time for creativity within the New York bubble. Not only is the book a fantastic read but it provides an insight into the Horses photoshoot which we had to share.
When talking about the shoot Patti said “I had no sense of how it would look, just that it should be true. The only thing I promised Robert was that I would wear a clean shirt with no stains on it.” That ‘clean shirt’ was specifically selected from the Bowery Salvation Army with the monogram of ‘RV’ with the hope it had belonged to Roger Vadim shot in Jean Genet in 1947.
The outfit is something which does elevate the shot. Smith looks every bit the punk-crooner she’d show she was on Horses. Complete with braces that mean business and the steely gaze of a determined soul. “I flung my jacket over my shoulder, Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow.”
Mapplethorpe and Smith took their time to ensure they had the right lighting and famously ate eggs and grits at the Pink Tea Cup cafe before making their way to their friend (and Mapplethorpe’s lover’s), Sam Wagstaff’s, penthouse apartment.
“I had my look in mind. He had his light in mind. That is all.” She continues later “Within a few days he showed me the contact sheet. ‘This one has the magic,’ he said.”
Patti offers the most telling review of the cover you’d ever need. This wasn’t a jaded star trying to look fresh, or a photographer trying to create an edge. This is a truth that can’t be untold.
“When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us.”
There will soon be a film about Mapplethorpe’s side of the story presented as a biopic of the great photographer’s colourful and vibrant life that was cut far too short. Donate to The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation here.