Robert Mapplethorpe Research

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait, 1982, Printed 1991

I chose Robert Mapplethorpe after I saw his powerful photos. I love how he captures the human figure. His great lighting and use of shadows on the human from are very dynamic. Even his photos of flowers are very interesting. He captures unique angles and arranges unique compositions using creative lighting and shadows.

Robert Mapplethorpe was born November 4, 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. He was the third of six children in this family living on Long Island. He is know for reflecting on his safe and secure childhood by saying, “I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment, and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave” (Connelly, 2009).
Mapplethorpe began to study drawing, sculpture and painting at the Pratt Institute in 1963. He enjoyed creating collages with photographs and materials from various magazines and books. He admired artist like Marcell Duchamp and Joseph Cornell, and revealed their influence in is work. It was not until 1970 that Mapplethorpe began to produce his own images with his Polaroid camera for his collages.

While Robert Mapplethorpe may be associated with beautiful photographs of flowers, orchids, calla lilies and even portraits of famous people like Richard Gere, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol, he is also known for his study of classical nudes and even capturing homoerotic acts including bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism. His erotic photos of black men a have brought on much criticism and even been labeled be some as exploitative. Most of his early work is considered the most controversial with photographs of explicitly exposed sexual organs, positions, and acts. While his imagery captured the subculture of the homosexual community exposing the humanity and emotions of his subjects, many consider his work obscene and even pornographic.

Mapplethorpe was introduced to photography with his Polaroid camera, but in the mid-1970’s he started working with a Hasselblad medium format camera. He worked mostly in his studio in Manhattan. In the 1980’s Mapplethorpe was given $500,00.00 to purchase a top-floor loft on West 23rd Street. He lived in the loft and had a studio there as wall, but kept his previous studio as a dark room.

The style of Robert Mapplethorpe is strongly influenced by Edward Weston. Weston also had hundreds of nude studies, which examined the human form under magnification and unique angles. Mapplethorpe’s creative use of shadow and light gives his work a look all of its own. His work shows the structure and discipline of being raised in a strict Cathloic Family. In much of his work geometric layouts can be seen and many pieces relate back to his religious roots in how the elements are arranged. Mapplethorpe has even made the statement, “I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things. It's always little altars." (Levinson, 1990). A great example is in his portrait of Andy Warhol. The portrait is framed by a square-shaped cross and the subject in the photo is encircled by a glowing halo. This piece has been said to have, “a look on his face like a Christ stunned at the revelation of his own godhood”
(Levinson, 1990).

In 1986 Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. He continued to build and master his photography skills despite his battle with AIDS. Mapplethorpe died March 9, 1989 in Boston due to complications with AIDS.

Work Cited:

Connelly, Brenden. "Eliza Dushku, Movie Producer, Casts Her Brother as Robert Mapplethorpe". FILM blogging the real world. January 19, 2009; March 20, 2010, .

Levinson , Deborah A.. "Robert Mapplethorpe's extraordinary vision". The Tech Online Edition. Friday, August 31, 1990; March 20, 2010,

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