Born in 1946, New York and died in 1989, Massachusetts – Robert Mapplethorpe was a photographer renowned for his large scale black and white stylized photos of nude men and flowers. The essence of homoeroticism in his work on men generated some general controversies over the public funding of such artworks. These two subjects were close to him since he was a homosexual himself.
Mapplethorpe used a Polaroid camera to take out first photographs. In 1970s, he bought another camera and took photographs of acquaintances and friends who were socialites, composers and artists. By 1980s, he began focusing on capturing images of female and male nude statues, formal portraits of celebrities and artist, and of flowers. His primary studio opened in Manhattan in 24 Bond Street. This studio was turned into a dark room when his close friend Sam Wagstaff provided him 500,000 dollars to buy a loft for living and shooting at 23rd Street.
Mapplethorpe primarily worked in his studio especially towards his career’s end. He photographed celebrities like Peter Gabriel, Patti Smith, Joan Armatrading, Deborah Harry, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Gere and Andy Warhol. Among flowers he usually took pictures of calla, lilies and orchids.
Other pieces by Mapplethorpe included acts of BDSM, classical nudes and homoerotic. His erotic and explicit portfolio grabbed nationwide attention in the 1990s when it was integrated in a travelling exhibition, The Perfect Moment, which was financially aided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Religious and conservative groups objected to his public displays and showed a vocal opposition and labeling his images as obscene. This is how Robert Mapplethorpe turned into a cause célèbre. His photographs of black males sexually charged, have gained criticisms as being exploitative.
Another controversy sparked in 1998 when a Mapplethorpe’s book was confiscated and there was an involvement of the University of Central England. A college student was writing an assignment on Mapplethorpe and for reference with text she wanted to add his images for illustrations. However, when she took the book for developing to a shop the shopkeeper complained to the West Midlands Police explaining the unusual nature of the photos and the police informed the university to destroy the book otherwise they will have to face serious consequences. However, the Senate supported Dr. Peter Knight, the Vice Chancellor of the university, by putting the view that the police has infringed in the rights of freedom in academics by their action. Soon, the matter came to an end without any action against the university.
Paul Rusell, a gay author in 1992 dedicated Boys to Life, his novel to Robert Mapplethorpe. Moreover Patti Smith also dedicated a book to the photographer titled The Coral Sea in 1996.
Three years later, Arena Editions published a monograph, of sex picture by Mapplethorpe, called Pictures. The book was seized by South Australian detectives in 2000, on the basis of their belief that the book contained obscene and indecent material.
In 2006, a print by Mapplethorpe of Andy Warhol was auctioned for about 643,000 American dollars – making it Mapplethorpe’s most expensive sold images ever.
In 2007, a collection of 183 Mapplethorpe’s polaroids out of 1,500 were published by Prestel by the name of Mapplethorpe: Polaroids.
Patti Smith was Robert Mapplethorpe’s roommate for a long time and was often his subject for photography. Smith mentioned their relationship in a memoir Just Kids in 2010.