HBO takes a deeper look into the life of the infamous controversial photographer
Robert Mapplethorpe lived in the core of provocation and beyond artistic convention, not because he aimed to shock, but because 1970s-80s America as a whole was not ready for his clear and unabashed photographic perspective. He is often synonymously linked to artist, poet and musician Patti Smith, who encouraged Mapplethorpe's photography while living together in the Chelsea Hotel in the early '70s. Smith herself was Mapplethorpe's subject in many of his most iconic photographs, among Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and others. Despite a career of also producing traditional portraiture, striking classical nudes and still life images of orchids and calla lilies, out of context, Mapplethorpe is remembered most for his controversial portrayal of male nude, homosexually explicit and fetish imagery that set him off as a national pariah. He insisted his work was not meant to be obscene, but to hold the same careful, traditional approach in capturing the beauty of humanity with truth and sensitivity as any of his more easily accepted subjects.
“I don’t like that particular word ‘shocking.’ I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before... I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.” ― Robert Mapplethorpe
Directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, the documentary tells Mapplethorpe's story through incredibly intimate interviews with some of his closest friends and colleagues. At the trailer's close we hear Mapplethorpe's voice: "The whole point of being an artist is to learn about yourself. The photographs, I think, are less important than the life that one is leading." So while many of us have looked to define the artist in his images, in truth they do not confine him; they tell only of his transient process of self discovery, of exploration, and of his exercise of personal freedom. The doc promises to reveal even more. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures airs April 4 on HBO. Watch the trailer below.
Words by Henri Maddocks
Self Portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe