This exhibition was held at the Galerie Taddaeus Ropac, in the 30 arr in Paris. It comes with an age and sensitivity warning… I was familiar, although not very familiar, with some of Mapplethorpe’s male nudes and I found them very beautiful I was unaware of any of the biographical details of Mapplethorpe’s life.
He was born in New York in 1946. He says of the area where he grew up “it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.” He created beautiful B&W images of both male and female nudes as well as flower still lives.
In the 1970’s he became increasingly interested in photographing New York’s S & M scene (1). This exhibition has several images from this period. I cannot put my own impression, of the the exhibition, any better than it is put in Mapplethorpe’s own site “the resulting photographs are shocking for their content and remarkable for their technical and formal mastery“. He himself was gay, dying of aids in 1989, so this must have given him special access to the world of S & M. He disagreed with the use of the word ‘shocking’ to describe his images but it is hard to agree with his preferred adjective ‘unexpected‘. I am not sure what would be unexpected in this underworld.
He described his own work as pornographic with which one would have to concur. He apparently took part in the sexual acts he was photographing and he engaged his models sexually (2). His models were mostly black males although he also photographed female bodybuilders.
There are a great number of images in this exhibition which border on the pornographic especially when one learns that he engaged the models sexually. However having said that they are magnificently executed and displayed.
Side by side with these images of male genitalia and homosexual acts there are beautiful still lives of flowers. My mind was so influenced by the male nudes that I could see sexual connotations in the flower images – I have no idea if this was intended.
Before coming out as gay he lived with Patti Smith who worked to support his photography and remained a close friend of his even after he came out.
1.The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation – Biography. 2016. The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation – Biography. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/biography/. [Accessed 15 February 2016].
Robert Mapplethorpe – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2016. Robert Mapplethorpe – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mapplethorpe. [Accessed 15 February 2016].