As the publishers of photo books announce their fall lineups, it is clear that there will be no shortage this year of visually rich volumes on enigmatic photographers, from Robert Frank to Deborah Turbeville (both from Steidl) to Robert Mapplethorpe (from teNeues). But one intriguing new book focuses on a mysterious photographic subject — the indie rock musician Elliott Smith.
Though not a household name, Smith was a cult figure who still holds sway over a devoted audience with his hauntingly beautiful melodies, deft guitar work, and sad lyrics delivered by a delicate voice that sounds like an angst-ridden Art Garfunkel. Perhaps his most visible (and awkward) public moment was at the 1998 Oscars where he performed “Miss Misery,” which he contributed to the film Good Will Hunting and earned a “best song” nomination for, alongside the likes of Celine Dion (whose “My Heart Will Go On” won the Oscar). Smith also made headlines when he died at age 34 in 2003 of a stab to the chest, thought to be (but never verified as) self-inflicted.
But privately, Smith was much-beloved by his peers in the alt-music milieus of Portland, Oregon, and later Los Angeles. One close friend was photographer Autumn de Wilde, who has shot album covers for Smith and other rock stars as the White Stripes, Beck, and Death Cab for Cutie, all close friends of Smith. De Wilde has put together a collection of intimate portraits, Elliott Smith (above left), due from Chronicle Books this fall — it can be partially previewed at autumndewilde.com.