Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was an American photographer known for his stylized black and white photographs. Mapplethorpe’s body of work is varied, he captured subject matter ranging from fellow artists to nudes. At times his works are simply beautiful, such as his photographs of lilies, and at others controversial, such as his homoerotic and S & M images, but always his work is provocative. In his own words he was “looking for the unexpected…looking for things I’ve never seen before.”
Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in the suburbs of Queens. Though he never graduated, he attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In the late 1960s he met Patti Smith, who would become a life-long friend. Together they moved into the Chelsea Hotel and made art. Smith’s book, Just Kids, wonderfully documents their time together.
In the 1970s Mapplethorpe began photographing still lifes, friends, musicians, artists, socialites, pornographic film stars, bodybuilders and members of the S & M underground. He went on to become one of the most well known American photographers of the 20th Century. His exceptional technical skills combined with an eye for composition and the drive to capture bold subject matter made him legendary and at times infamous. In 1988 the Whitney Museum of American Art included some of his explicit homoerotic and sadomasochistic images, which sparked a heated debate about censorship and public funding for the arts in America.
Mapplethorpe passed away in 1989 due to complications arising from AIDS. His Foundation manages his work and raises money to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV infection.
Still highly regarded and widely exhibited, Mapplethorpe’s work is on view starting September 11th at Alison Jacques Gallery. Just in time for London fashion week the show includes some never before exhibited photographs shot for publications such as Italian and French Vogue, and LA Style. Co-organized with Mapplethorpe’s first long-term boyfriend, David Croland, the exhibition “focuses on an aspect of Mapplethorpe that was key to his work and life: glamour and beauty; but never from an obvious point of view.”