Life & Culture

Photos of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith When They Were ‘Just Kids’

Lloyd Ziff’s previously unpublished photographs of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were taken in New York in 1968. Here, Ziff remembers the two young artists who went on to become icons

“I had no proof that I had the stuff to be an artist, though I hungered to be one,” Patti Smith writes in Just Kids, revealing the burning desire that drove her destiny. Along the way she met Robert Mapplethorpe and together they would meld a magical world of art and music born of passion, dreams, and youthful ideals.

As fate would have it, Lloyd Ziff crossed their path – quite literally. In 1968, Ziff was working as a graphic designer at CBS Records, creating album covers for Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin – but he harboured a personal passion for photography, which he took up in his last semester at Pratt.

“Robert and I were friends from school,” Ziff tells Another Man. “One day I saw him and Patti walking across the street and thought it would be fun to shoot some portraits of them. They had a tiny apartment on Hall Street across from Pratt. I went over one afternoon and only shot one roll of film.” 

Those photos, which first appeared in Just Kids, are now included in Ziff’s new limited-edition book DESIRE: Photographs 1968–1969. The book also features images made in the photographer’s tiny basement apartment on Charles Street in Greenwich Village in 1969.

“Robert wanted to make a movie called The Garden of Earthly Delights and he needed naked pictures of them – not at all sexual, just standing, kneeling, blindfolded, praying, screaming, and laughing,” Ziff recalls. “I didn’t really know how to shoot. These are pictures that Robert directed. I was just the cameraman.”

In Just Kids, Smith reveals that Mapplethorpe lost interest in making the film but from this session, a seed was planted in his mind. “If you want to take pictures, you should really learn to do it yourself,” Smith quotes herself as telling him.

The photographs were never shown until Smith asked to publish a selection in an illustrated edition of Just Kids, inspiring Ziff to revisit his archive and put together a monograph of their time together. 

“The people I chose to shoot in the late 60s were just kids, and we all had that look of beauty that young people have whether they were beautiful or not,” Ziff says. “We all wanted to be artists but Robert and Patti became American icons by their intensity, hard work and desire.”

DESIRE by Lloyd Ziff is available to pre-order, published by NJG Studio.