Regularly described as one of the most significant and controversial photographers of the twentieth century, Mapplethorpe’s legacy has lived on to inspire a new generation of contemporary artists. Mapplethorpe studied at the Pratt Institute in New York and first gained recognition for his Polaroid pictures taken in the early 1970s. In the mid to late 1970s, he focused on documenting the NYC underground community, photographing fellow artists, musicians, and pornographic film stars with a Hasselblad medium format camera. He is most well known for his body of work taken in the 1980s that experimented with a wide variety of photographic formats including gelatin silver prints, large size polaroids, and photogravures (such as Irises, 1987). His iconic images range from portraits of artists and celebrities, posed male and female nudes, to flower still lifes. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and passed away in 1989. He survived to see his first major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. His homoerotic photographs caused a national controversy involving the American Family Association which sparred a debate about censorship and public funding of the arts. The press coverage that fuelled a highly publicized conversation about the first ammenment and free speech fortified his international reputation and caused the prices of his photographs to skyrocket. He used the proceeds of his photographs to start the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation which has posthumously has raised millions of dollars to fund AIDS and HIV research. His work has been exhibited at major institutions throughout the world, including numerous retrospectives and solo shows. The LACMA and Getty are currently organizing a large scale retrospective scheduled to opening 2016.
Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980