Michael Bergeron
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Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
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The documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures gives a comprehensive overview of the controversial artist. Since his death in 1989 Mapplethorpe’s legacy has only grown. In addition to the doc currently unwinding on HBO, two exhibits of Mapplethorpe’s photos are currently on display in Los Angeles at the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe 1969

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe 1969

Leon casino, Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) compile film footage and examples of his art that covers Mapplethorpe’s life from the 1950s when he was not even interested in photography, to his tumultuous life in New York during the 1980s. The clips are supplemented by multiple interviews with many of his lovers as well as subjects of his photos. Also on hand are his sister Nancy and his younger brother Edward. The latter worked with his brother at his studio and was with him in his final days, and brings great insight into Mapplethorpe’s process.

When Mapplethorpe knew he was dying of AIDS he only increased his artistic output as if he was racing with the clock of his life.000070.26549.16257_mapplethorpelookatthepictures_still1_kenmoodyandrobertsherman__bycrobertmapplethorpefoundation_-_sq_2016

Typically Mapplethorpe would have dual art exhibits; one uptown that consisted of portraits and flower still-lifes, and another downtown devoted to his explicitly sexual photographs.

This doc contains some very revealing images not the least of which are the finger in the penis and the fist in the ass photos that brought Mapplethorpe condemnation from politicians with their own agenda.

The title of the doc is derived from Jesse Helms (Republican senator from North Carolina) calling out Mapplethorpe on the floor of Congress.

There’s some great footage in Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures including his time at the Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s first muse. The directors also point out how Mapplethorpe was aware of famous photographers in the history of photography like Edward Weston, Lewis Carroll, Wilhelm von Gloeden and others who paved the way for the use of the body as a metaphor for sexuality.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures continues it run on HBO throughout the month and into early May.

— Michael Bergeron