Text by Lucia Davies
In the same week that “Godmother of Punk” Patti Smith released the single “April Fool” off her 11th album Banga, we reveal the legendary musician's lesser-known relationship: one with her cats.
Whilst an avid image-maker – she exclusively shot and interviewed Michael Pitt for the last issue of Another Man – Smith has also been a muse to numerous renowned photographers and has spent a lifetime in front of the lens. Famously pictured by Robert Mapplethorpe (she was his first model), Annie Liebovitz, Bruce Weber, Judy Linn and Steve Sebring, it was fine art photographer Frank Stefanko who first shot Smith whilst they were at college together. “In the late 60s, before the conspiratorial lens of Judy Linn, I referenced French New Wave,” explained Smith, “My schoolmate Frank Stefanko shot me as I first tread upon the road of rock and roll.”
Still good friends, Stefanko – who is also well known for his early portraits of Bruce Springsteen – shot this beguiling photograph of Smith with her cat in 1974 just after she had moved out from living with Mapplethorpe. “I've always been infatuated with her look,” Stefanko exclusively told AnOther, “Her angular lines, her incredible complexion, and her ability to vamp for the camera. This image was taken in the mid-70s in Patti’s sparse, newly-acquired apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The cat wandered into the composition and took up position on the window ledge. It appeared to me that the cat was standing guard, hence the photograph is titled ‘The Lookout’.”
"As long as I have known Patti – and we first met at college in the 1960s – she has always had cats. They were an ever-present feature"
Also filmed singing to one of her cats on a window ledge in the 2008 documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life, the close bond Smith has with her feline pets is clearly evident as it fondly nuzzles and arches its back against her hand. “As long as I have known Patti – and we first met at college in the 1960s – she has always had cats. They were an ever-present feature,” explains Stefanko. Unbothered by breed, Smith has owned a range of different types of cat, with the one pictured in The Lookout the most unusual being a black cat – an unpopular breed, often considered bad luck. Well known for their stoic, silent and mysterious nature, it is rather fitting that the enigmatic Smith has been a cat lover for decades. Unanimously, the symbolic meaning of cats is that of protection and guardianship and they have accompanied Smith through her career from a poorly paid, unknown writer and musician living in various apartments across the city to her “Godmother of Punk” status.