Smith looks as if she were a madonna carved in white marble in a northern Renaissance church. The shadows are so deep, and her thin presence so stark, that her flesh seems to be cool stone. She is alive, like the surface of a Michelangelo marble. Smith has tremendous force, black anger in the white light.
This is an image so solid, a composition so insistent, that it is hard to believe that Mapplethorpe took this picture with nothing more than a Polaroid camera. The dead-on look she gives the camera also mimics the most brutal kind of photographic portrait, the passport or police mugshot. The sensuous severity of the image is presented as if it were nothing, just an accident in a picture taken without thought.
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Whatever is said about Mapplethorpe, this picture exposes what he really was: a romantic. He has photographed Patti Smith as the essence of every romantic icon, a savage heart on a highway to hell. Dark, shadowed and desperate, she burns herself into the picture.
- Jonathan Jones in Guardian, 2000, on the portrait of Patti Smith in 1974 by Robert Mapplethorpe