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Book Review: Elliott Smith by Autumn de Wilde

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It’s been over four years since Elliott Smith’s tragic and untimely death. It can’t be understated how much impact he’s had on contemporary rock music. There are many stories about his life, and while you can argue about what was true and what wasn’t, the one real truth is that few people really knew him.

Many artists have paid tribute to Smith. But no tribute is more candid than that done by friend and rock photographer Autumn de Wilde. She’s taken hundreds of photos of Smith and published them in her 224-page photography book Elliott Smith.

For the wound-down San Francisco event Noise Pop '08, de Wilde showcased many photos she took of Smith. It was a little eerie viewing Smith in black and white. For those that have seen the cover of his Figure 8 album, you can see the actual photo minus the red. If juxtaposed together, the album cover surprisingly looks less depressing, and somewhat hopeful.

My favorite photo has Smith running away from the camera while in a cramped hallway. From what I’ve read, he never liked or wanted the spotlight. To perform at the Academy Awards would be a dream for many artists, but not Smith. The photo reminds me of his reluctance to be noticed and his avoidance of the spotlight.

One group of photos has Smith with a balloon. While it might seem innocuous, think about a balloon and how when by itself it looks so lonely and out of place. The photos with Smith and the balloon evoked themes of loneliness. Smith wasn’t an outcast by any means, but his musical talent made him adored and worshiped by many. For artists, fame is sometimes a necessary evil, which Smith understood but was never at ease with.

Elliott Smith by Autumn de WildeThere is one lone color photo of Smith. To be accurate, it’s the one non-black and white photo. The photo is a close-up of Smith and in a harsh orange and red tone. I struggled to find a meaning than the less obvious, but even sometimes the answer is simpler than that. It’s probably just a photo that looked cool with those particular colors.

De Wilde was on hand at Noise Pop '08 to answer questions about the photos and Elliott, but I resisted. I overheard a few things as she talked with a few other people. Looking at the photos for the first time, I wanted to let them stand on their own before getting context to them through de Wilde’s anecdotes. The gallery was a wonderful tribute to Smith, and to see smaller versions of the photos – grab a copy of the book.

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About Tan The Man

A proud dork and loser, Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music, and has previously covered the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest and WonderCon.
  • Morgan

    I went to that show too. I enjoyed it very much.


    The balloon pictures were from a video by Autumn for “Son of Sam.” the video is a take off of the french film “La Balloon Rougue” by filmaker Albert Lamorisse. I’m three years older than Elliott Smith, and that film was shown repeatedly to us kids in the U.S. in elementary school, at least where I went to school growing up. It was a popular film for teachers to show. Many people ten years younger or older might not catch the reference right away, but I sure did. That movie left quite an impression on me. :)