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Robert Mapplethorpe

Text from The Photography Encyclopedia

Mapplethorpe, Robert (1946-1989): Controversial American portrait and art photographer

Mapplethorpe's photos, which were widely exhibited, ranged from sexually explicit to sublimely beautiful. He gained recognition in the 1970s with elegantly composed, sometimes shocking male nudes. Throughout his career he also made portraits of his friends and celebrities in the fields of music, art, literature, and entertainment and took still lifes of flowers that were simple in concept but exquisitely detailed.

Born in New York, he studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1963 to 1970. He began his career as an independent filmmaker and artist using photographs in collages. He began taking photographs with a Polaroid given him by a friend.

Besides being influential as a photographer, Mapplethorpe inspired his friend Sam Wagstaff to collect photography. Wagstaff's collection later was sold to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Even after he became known as a photographer, Mapplethorpe remained interested in art constructions and in 1988 had a show featuring photographic images imprinted on fabric. He was also a collector of photographs as well as of furniture, fabric, and other art objects. He was in demand as an editorial photographer, making celebrity portraits for magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Himself a victim of AIDS, he established a foundation to focus on medical research for the disease. His photographs are in the collections of numerous museums, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. He had many solo exhibitions in the United States and Europe, including a major retrospective at the Whitney. Selections of his photographs are collected in several books, including Robert Mapplethorpe (1988), published in conjunction with the Whitney exhibit.


 


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