The Daily Heller: Lloyd Ziff’s Photos Capture Just Kids, Patti and Robert

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I met Lloyd Ziff in the ’70s when he was a magazine design director for various Conde Nast publications and Rolling Stone, highly admired for his work art directing great photographers. Yet like some other art directors from the generation prior—Alexey Brodovitch, Henry Wolf, Art Kane, etc.—he eventually transformed his career from assigning pictures to making them. Starting in 1968, “Photography for me had become much more exciting than painting or drawing. I loved the magic of recording a moment in time. Much later I learned that I was recording a moment in my time,” he writes in his book DESIRE: Photographs of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, 1968–1969 (the book was published last fall, and the final lot of signed copies is available here).

Fortunately, I have remained on Ziff’s mailing list for many years, which is how I learned that Ziff has an exhibition that opens tomorrow at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica’s Danziger Gallery featuring vintage photographs of Mapplethorpe and Smith, in addition to other NYC images.

“It was 1968. I had been friends with Robert at Pratt Institute, the art college in Brooklyn we had both graduated from a year earlier,” Ziff continues in the brief introduction. “I think we recognized something in each other that neither of us knew how to talk about then, maybe even to ourselves. We were both still living in Brooklyn near the school. Robert was living with Patti in a small apartment on Hall Street. They were always making paintings and drawings and sculptures, and their walls were covered with their work. They were both very beautiful. I had just started taking photographs.”

It was around this time that I worked with Patti for a brief period at Rock magazine on lower Seventh Avenue. I had no idea that she was doing artwork or was living with Mapplethorpe until years later. So, Ziff’s images are indeed important reveals in the lives of these two “kids.”

A year later Ziff moved to the Village, Smith and Mapplethorpe to the Chelsea Hotel. Ziff asked Mapplethorpe if he could come over to their place and make some portraits of them, and he agreed. “The one contact sheet from that shoot [in the book] shows that I had so little money then I could only afford one roll of film,” Ziff adds.

Later, “[Mapplethorpe] asked me if I would shoot some nude pictures of himself and Patti for a project he was thinking of doing. Patti writes about this in her book Just Kids: She says he wanted to make an animated film depicting them in ‘a tantric Garden of Eden.’ We knew each other well enough to totally trust each other. Nobody was embarrassed or uptight. They just came over to my little apartment, we hooked a spotlight to a chair, and I shot the pictures that Robert wanted of himself, standing, sitting, kneeling, praying blindfolded, and then of Patti doing the same. I believe I gave Robert a contact sheet and made some small prints for him. And then, as Patti also writes in her book, Robert lost interest in making the film and nothing ever happened with the pictures.”

Interestingly, Ziff bookends the photos with noir-ish black-and-white New York City street images that are meant to contextualize his own art at the time that Smith and Mapplethorpe were beginning to evolve into their own. It is overall a very satisfying document of Ziff’s times.

All photographs courtesy Lloyd Ziff