Saturday, March 9, 2013

Patti's Camera Solo

On Thursday night, Drew and I had the magnificent good fortune of being able to see Patti Smith in concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It was the opening of her photography exhibit, called Camera Solo - doubly meaning 'a room of one's own' and 'a single camera show'.

The exhibit showcases Patti's tiny photos, all black and white, which she took with an old Polaroid.  The photos are created by some kind of gelatinous silver tracking the light exposure.  Aside from a few photos of family and friends, Patti's collection focuses on famous dead people, giving the strong impression that you're looking at an exhibition about death - or alternatively, about love.  The photos are of the relics of dead people who did remarkable things.  For example, there is a photo of the River Ouse, in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself, along with a huge round rock sitting on a table, like the ones she filled her pockets with.  There is a photo of Frieda Khalo's bed, a reproduction of the litter that carried Rimbaud across Egypt, and numerous headstones from famous graves around Europe.  There's a sense through the exhibit that Patti wants us to focus on the ways that the dead live through us long after they're gone; about the legacy of a chair or a wooden cane.  Love is what carries the memories of these people and pulls the threads of their lives through the eye of the present.  Love will keep us alive long after we have died.

To complement the photos this night, Patti gave a short performance in the central rotunda of the Gallery.  The glass ceiling and high arching walls provided incredible acoustics for her voice, guitar, and grand piano.  Patti's songs, too, were about death and love.  She sang Redondo Beach, about a lover looking for her girlfriend who has killed herself, This is The Girl, written in tribute to Amy Winehouse, and Because the Night, about the passion of lovers and the safety they feel in their own world in the dark.  She dedicated her songs to various people along the way, and the last song, the People Have the Power, was dedicated to Stompin' Tom Connors who passed away on Wednesday.  He is a Canadian folk music hero, and Patti put it right when she said "a guy like that doesn't die, he's just walking along in another place right now, but he doesn't die.  He never leaves us."

Patti ensured her legacy with us that night.  The crowd was ecstatic.  There were so few of us, she was so honest and genuine, and the music was so big and full.  The Waterloo Choir, who had bought tickets to come and see her, unexpectedly - to them as well - ended up backing her on the last two songs, and killing it, I might add.  The entire evening was deep with meaning, richly celebrating life, and death, and love.

Camera Solo runs from February 9th to May 19th, 2013, at the AGO, in Toronto.

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