Photographs Capturing the Magic of Patti Smith, On Stage and Off

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Patti Smith Lynn Goldsmith Before Easter After
© 1975 Lynn Goldsmith

Before Easter After is a beautiful new book documenting a pivotal period of Patti Smith’s life, with photographs by Lynn Goldsmith. Speaking to AnOther, Goldsmith explains how the pair wanted to create a “sacred object” for Smith’s fans

In 1977, Patti Smith fell off a stage in Tampa, Florida, as she was performing with The Patti Smith Group. The band was touring their album Radio Ethiopia, and photographer Lynn Goldsmith, a longtime friend of Smith’s, was travelling with them to shows across the United States. “As a photojournalist I’d covered things that were difficult to keep shooting through, when it pulls on your heart strings,” Goldsmith recalls, speaking to AnOther over the phone. “I saw her nearing the edge of the stage, but I thought she knew what she was doing because she always did this turning dervish on that song, where she spun and spun and spun. I was uncomfortable, and I am even remembering that feeling.” Goldsmith captured this pivotal moment – in which Smith broke her neck – and its repercussions, and the poignant photographs feature in a new book by Smith and Goldsmith, Before Easter After.

The Easter in the limited-edition book’s title is The Patti Smith Group’s third album, their most widely known and distributed, produced in 1978 after Smith’s stage fall. Before Easter After is a deep dive into this particular period of Smith’s life, via photographs taken by Goldsmith in the studio and at concerts and Smith’s own lyrics and words. “I no longer remember how we met, nor the genesis of our first photographs,” Smith writes in the book’s opening pages. “We traipsed the path of rock ‘n’ roll, savouring its swagger, yet dodging the pitfalls. [Lynn] witnessed formative nights at CBGBs, gaining ground across America, my accident in a Tampa arena, and the struggles to rise again.” Goldsmith remembers that, after the fall and following physical rehabilitation, Smith would “perform at CBGBs with her neck brace on – that used to make me kind of nervous because she shouldn’t be twisting her head and all of that. She was just a rebel, and I can’t blame her for ripping off that neck brace.”

The book is also testament to the great friendship still shared by Smith and Goldsmith. “There are many photographers who have photographed Patti who are wonderful artists, and it’s just that unlike me they did not do documentary as well as concert as well as studio work with her,” Goldsmith, whose own career has spanned portraiture, concert photography, film, and recording music, explains. “So that enabled Patti and I to have a narrative in the book that we could share with people of what was going on at that time.” 

The photographs take centre stage, beautifully accompanied by Smith’s lyrics and words. Goldsmith’s own notes – full of brief, exquisite details about what clothes Smith would wear (“thrift store raincoat”, “silk camisole inside out”) or particular shoots – are published next to the image thumbnails in the book’s final pages too. The overall effect is engrossing: an unprecedented look at the many sides of Patti Smith during these fabled New York years. As Smith writes on Instagram, it’s “the work of two girls, fighting the good fight”. “We wanted the book to be a sacred object – sacred for people who really love Patti,” says Goldsmith.

Before Easter After opens with a poem about Smith written by the late Sam Shepard. “Some flashing piece of magic,” it goes, “just missed her / past the burnt barn.” Goldsmith asked Shepard, unbeknownst to Smith, to write something in response to a photograph she had taken of Smith in 1977, which appears on the cover of the tome. “Patti wasn’t aware when I did that, because I thought it would be a nice surprise for her,” Goldsmith explains. “I really felt that Sam got her in a way that maybe I’m not deep enough to. The connection that they had, and Sam’s ability to poetically verbalise it, I felt would ring true for other people.” To close, on one of the book’s last pages, is a photograph that Goldsmith didn’t take, of the two women by Michael Putland. Smith is playfully pointing a camera – presumably one belonging to her friend – towards Goldsmith. “Oh it’s nice to have that there – when people ask me what’s my favourite picture in the book, that’s it, because I ain’t ever gonna look like that again!” Goldsmith laughs. “I didn’t think about that picture really until we were doing the book. When I showed it to Patti she said, ‘Oh my God, if only we’d known’.”

Before Easter After by Lynn Goldsmith and Patti Smith is published by Taschen on October 28, 2019.