‘I took these photographs before I knew how. In the beginning, it wasn’t so much about who we were but who we wanted to be.”
In the late 1960s, when she was a struggling young artist in Manhattan, Judy Linn had a friend named Patti. The two girlfriends played with makeup and clothes, they daydreamed about their future lives and careers. Linn, the aspiring photographer, couldn’t stop taking pictures, and Patti, who was into rock music, loved to be photographed and willingly posed for her friend.
Today, Linn is an award-winning artist and professor at Vassar College who shows her photographs across the U.S., in Europe and in Canada.
Linn’s long-ago friend was the famous singer/songwriter Patti Smith, the godmother of punk rock, who has never stopped creating with words, music and art. In 2007, Smith was enshrined in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; in 2010, she won a National Book Award for her memoir “Just Kids.”
Forty-seven of Linn’s black-and-white photos of Smith and her friends, including the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, will be on exhibit starting Sunday in the Esther Massry Gallery at The College of Saint Rose. The exhibit runs through Friday, Feb. 28.
Curated by gallery director Jeanne Flanagan, the show takes an even deeper look at the era with a companion exhibit of 33 black-and-white images that Linn took when she was a newspaper photographer in suburban Detroit.
‘My Land/Patti Smith and Other Things: Photographs by Judy Linn’
WHERE: Esther Massry Gallery, The College of Saint Rose, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany
WHEN: Sunday through Feb. 28. Gallery hours: 12-5 p.m. Mon., Wed. and Fri., 12-8 p.m. Tues. and Thurs., 12-4 p.m. Sun.
HOW MUCH: Free
ARTIST EVENT: Friday, Feb. 7: book signing by Judy Linn from 4:30-5 p.m.; gallery reception, 5-7 p.m.; Judy Linn lecture, 7 p.m., Saint Joseph Auditorium, 985 Madison Ave.
MORE INFO: www.strose.edu/gallery, 485-3902
On Friday, Feb. 7, Linn, a Hudson Valley resident, will sign copies of her 2011 monograph, “Patti Smith 1969-1976,” at Saint Rose and then give a talk.
“The work is so direct, so honest and straightforward,” Flanagan says. “And every photograph has a little narrative, a little story to tell.”
Flanagan, who is from the same generation as Linn, has always been a big Patti Smith fan.
“She’s an amazing poet and wordsmith,” Flanagan says.
For viewers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the exhibit is like peeking into the window of one’s college apartment, as the furniture is spare and primitive, the beds are unmade, and the rooms are cluttered and strewn with clothing, books and odd bric-a-brac from that era.
In a series of four images shot in Manhattan’s storied Chelsea Hotel, a baby-faced Mapplethorpe, clad in leather pants, combs his wavy hair, then pulls off his shirt to expose a smooth, slim chest.
Before he realized he was gay, Mapplethorpe was Smith’s boyfriend, and in another photo, he lovingly embraces her as she looks away from the camera.
“They were just kids. They really loved each other,” says Flanagan.
In the early 1970s, Mapplethorpe, Linn and Smith met Sam Wagstaff, a prominent art collector and curator. Wagstaff, who was 20 years older, mentored the emerging artists.
Then, in 1975, with her debut album, “Horses,” Smith’s punk rocker career took off.
Linn graduated from Pratt Institute. Her work is now represented by Feature Inc. in New York City.
Mapplethorpe, who became Wagstaff’s protégé and companion, died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989, at age 42.
Before he became a noted and controversial photographer, Mapplethorpe earned money by making jewelry, and in many of the Smith portraits she wears chokers, bracelets and necklaces made of feathers, beads and tiny skulls.
Smith envisioned herself as an artist’s model, and in several photos, she is seminude.
In one image, a certain Rolling Stones musician is on her mind.
“She’s impersonating Keith Richards. She looks exactly like him,” Flanagan says.
In another photo, Smith sits in a chair and holds a picture of folk singer Bob Dylan over her face like a mask.
‘This is you right now’
At Saint Rose, Flanagan’s students don’t know about Patti Smith, but they can relate to these images.
“These photographs may be 40 years old, but this is you right now, I tell them.”
She also suggested that they read Smith’s memoir.
“And they absolutely love it.”
Patti Smith can inspire them, she says.
“You need to have confidence in yourself when you go out in the world. And you have to have passion to drive yourself there.”
As she researched the exhibit, Flanagan became very connected to it.
“It brings me back to my own girlhood,” she says.
“Like Judy, I was born in Detroit and raised in a white suburb and personally experienced the beginning of the race riots. We had the same stomping grounds.”
The Detroit section of the exhibit, which has not been shown anywhere else, reveals not only the outfits but the attitudes of American society in the summer of 1972, when Linn took them.
“It’s a time frame that’s hermetically sealed,” Flanagan says.
The people in these photos are regular folk going about their daily lives.
There’s the Italian immigrant family in their living room, and a couple at the beach in Michigan’s St. Clair Shores.
Years later, in the 1980s, Smith went into semiretirement in St. Clair Shores, and lived there with her husband and two children.
In another photo, a woman at a dog show holds her prize-winning pooch.
The dog’s shaggy hair is combed into a topknot, held in place by a plastic barrette.
But it’s the woman’s big, stiff bouffant that catches Flanagan’s eye.
She remembers girlfriend sessions where they would all sweep and coil their long hair into beehive hairdos. It would take hours, Flanagan says.
“And tons of hairspray.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]