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Beth Jennings Photography [voice]

Patti Smith

Patti Smith's favourite dress when she was a little girl - Steven Sebring

 Steven Sebring
Objects of Life

We all have a voice and a responsibility to use it – Patti Smith

I came across the name ‘Patti Smith’ when I went to a photographic exhibition in Melbourne at the Centre for Contemporary Photography: that featured images by photographer Steven Sebring.  The images were taken during the 11 years of fiming of her documentary Dream of Life, of seemingly ordinary objects from everyday life, blown up very large.  They were in fact very personal artefacts, such as her favourite dress that she wore as a little girl (above), an urn carrying some of the ashes of her friend, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the like.  It was part of an installation that included her speaking voice and an old TV out of tune and crackling distractedly in one corner.  This was my introduction to the living legend, Patti Smith.

The visit to Melbourne was short and the next month she was due to appear there and give a talk as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, in collaboration with Philip Glass, Dedication To Allen Ginsberg, which at the time I knew would have been great to see, but I still wasn’t yet sure why. I thought she was an artist, with a music bent, and she is, but so much more. 

So, fast-forward a couple of months and I go to the National Film and Sound Archive cinema called Arc to see her doco Dream of Life.  What an amazing woman!  When she was young she took herself off to NYC and made friends with people like Robert Mapplethorpe and writer William S Boroughs (not a good website on him but try  She became a punk/rock singer and had a band in the 80’s, and a massive following.  She was inspired by the past, its artists and contributors.  She felt people’s struggles and was poetic and beautiful.  The most touching scenes (and in this film there are many) were the most personal ones.  My favourite was taken in her apartment sitting by a window sill with her cat dodging and moving around her hand as she sang to it, in a gentle voice – completely removed from the hard-core rocker chick she is on stage.  What a great lady, full of spirit, sincerity, poignancy and with a 100% ego-less creativity, committed to expressing her values and point of view.

Check her out at and (the background picture of a tambourine was given to her by Robert Mapplethorpe when she turned 21).

Anyway, after that empassioned ramble, the thing that resonated was hearing her say ‘we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it’. Way cool, I’ll try to keep that up.


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