Patti Smith Wins Prestigious National Book Award

by Chris Murray on November 18, 2010

It was terrific to read in the news today that Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, won The National Book Award for nonfiction. Govinda Gallery hosted the first exhibition of Frank Stefanko’s photographs of Patti Smith in the fall of 2006. That exhibition was also a launch for Stefanko’s book of photographs and stories Patti Smith: American Artist (Insight Editions 2006). Smith, a long time friend of Stefanko’s, wrote the forward to his book. There is also an introduction by Smith’s long time music collaborator Lenny Kaye. Govinda Gallery’s Chris Murray edited Patti Smith: American Artist and contributed the afterword. Stefanko’s photographs are very much in the news as it is his image on the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s album Darkness on The Edge of Town. Bruce has just released The Promise: The Darknes on The Edge of Town Story in a special box set that includes a number of Stefanko’s photos. Stefanko was introduced to Bruce by Patti Smith.

In celebration of Patti’s award we present a few photos of her taken by Stefanko. Also reproduced is the invitation from Stefanko’s exhibition at Govinda Gallery and gallery Director Chris Murray’s afterword to Patti Smith: American Artist. Frank Stefanko’s photographs of Patti Smith are available through Govinda Gallery.

The cover of Frank Stefanko’s Patti Smith: American Artist and The Stoop, Geenwich Village 1974 Copyright © Frank Stefanko. All Rights Reserved.

Patti Smith NYC Copyright © Frank Stefanko. All Rights Reserved.

Avenging Angel Copyright © Frank Stefanko. All Rights Reserved.


Patti Smith is no stranger to photography. She is a photographer who has been the subject of countless photographers, including modern masters such as Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Annie Leibovitz. She has written about photography, as a contributor to Mapplethorpe’s Flowers, Annie Leibovitz: American Music, and Bygone Days: 1907-1957 Photographs by John Penor and Family, among others. Her own book, Patti Smith Complete: Lyrics, Reflections and Notes for the Future, is filled with photographs of her pastimes as well as other images of interest to her from personal archives. She has long appreciated the intensity and emotion of photographs. A visual artist herself, Patti Smith knows well the power of images in her life and in her dreams.

It is always a wondrous thing to see fine photographers of significant artists-in-the-making. In the visual archives of rock and roll, there are some classic examples of this, such as Al Wertheimer’s photographs of Elvis Presley in 1956, Astrid Kirchherr’s photographs of the Beatles in Hamburg in 1961, and Dan Kramer’s photographs of Bob Dylan in 1964. Their extraordinary images document decisive moments in the transformation of those artists into icons. Like Wertheimer, Kirchherr, and Kramer, Frank Stefanko was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. But it’s more than good timing that makes Stefanko’s photographs of Patti Smith resonate so beautifully. There was a crucial connection between the subject and the photographer that brought about these compelling portraits of Patti and the Patti Smith Group, most of which are published for the first time in this book. With the affection and familiarity of a friendship that began in college and continued through the 1970’s, Frank chronicled Patti’s journey as an American artist with an intimacy and sensitivity that defines what there photos are all about.

In “A Pythagorean Traveler” from her most recent book of poetry. Auguries of Innocence, Patti Smith wrote:

Beauty alone is not immortal.
It is the response, a language of ciphers, notes and strokes,
Riding off on a cloud charger…

Frank Stefanko’s photographs are among those ciphers, notes, and strokes…a language of his own, a response to the artistry of Patti Smith. The images in Patti Smith: American Artist are themselves auguries of innocence – a key to her own immortal beauty.

– Chris Murray, 2006

Photographer Frank Stefanko and artist Patti Smith’s personal inscriptions to Govinda Gallery Director Chris Murray.

The invitation to Govinda Gallery’s exhibition of Frank Stefanko’s Patti Smith: American Artist exhibition, September 29th to October 28th, 2006.

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3 responses to “Patti Smith Wins Prestigious National Book Award”

  1. babs says:

    I first heard Patti when I worked at the cellar door
    She was fabulous,and I also have the book from 20006. One of my favorites. Babs

  2. Jesse says:

    Patti Smith

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