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Robert Mapplethorpe: Fighter of censors, lover of leather.

You wouldn’t know it from his racy pictures, but Mapplethorpe grew up in a snoozy suburb of Long Island. The wholesome thing didn’t stick. He once said, “ It was a very safe environment and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave." Amen!

The move to Manhattan was a no-brainer, and in the Big Apple he was exposed to the sexual subcultures he became famous for documenting. He went to college for graphic design, but dropped out before finishing. Very punk rock. That makes sense because his best friend and roommate was legendary punk rocker Patti Smith. They remained besties til the bitter end, and she talks a lot about their relationship in her highly acclaimed memoir Just Kids. She hits the nail on the head when she describes Mapplehorpe’s work: "Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism. As Cocteau said of a Genet poem, "His obscenity is never obscene.""

Not everyone agreed on that point. Some photos from Mapplethorpe’s now infamous X Portfolio were exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery and caused a stir about public funding for the arts. The prudes in congress couldn’t handle a little urine drinking and ass play. Sure, there’s a bullwhip in that guy’s anus, but the composition and lighting is sublime! People wanted to keep him down, but he had allies (and, ahem, the first amendment) on his side. Eventually the censorship case went to court, but everyone was righteously found not guilty.

Jokes on them, even from the grave. All the controversy tripled prices of his photographs when he was living and even bumped up the profits for Christie’s auction house when they sold off his estate. Isn’t it ironic how censorship makes the thing you are trying to censor more popular. Doncha think? [If you didn’t just break into an Alanis Morissette song...reevaluate your life.]

Besides the BDSM stuff, Mapplethorpe is best known for his epic celebrity photographs. He’s taken everyone’s picture. To name just a few:  Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, David Hockney, Debbie Harry, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, and, of course, Patti Smith. Perhaps he prized her portrait most of all, as he based it off of an etching by Albrecht Durer.

Sadly, like so many others during this time (Thanks a lot Ronald Reagan) Mapplethorpe died of AIDS related complications right at the peak of his rise to fame. He attended his last opening, at the Whitney Museum, in a wheelchair just days after a stint in the hospital. A Vanity Fair reporter asked him, “You’ve become really famous, Robert. How does that feel?”  The sad answer? ""Great," he said quietly, but shook his head at the same time. “I’m quite frustrated I’m not going to be around to enjoy it.""


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Michael Mapplethorpe (/ˈmpəlˌθɔːrp/ MAY-pəl-thorp; November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, best known for his black-and-white photographs. His work featured an array of subjects, including celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits, and still-life images. His most controversial works documented and examined the gay male BDSM subculture of New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Mapplethorpe's 1989 exhibition, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, sparked a debate in the United States concerning both use of public funds for "obscene" artwork and the Constitutional limits of free speech in the United States.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Robert Mapplethorpe