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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Mapplethorpe’s ‘Portraits’: framing famous faces

    If you have ever posted a profile picture to Facebook, you may know something about the level of thought, planning and detail that can go into a portrait.

    Sexually and racially charged nudes may have made Robert Mapplethorpe notorious, but he made his living with portrait photography. This is the first exhibit since his death in 1989 that features Mapplethorpe’s portraits exclusively. Guest curator Gordon Baldwin explained his reasoning for staying away from the leather bondage gear photos.

    “”I thought enough had been done on those subjects. He got famous for some of the wrong reasons. But it did make him famous and he liked that part,”” Baldwin said.

    The exhibit is grouped by profession: dancers, actors, writers, musicians, fashion designers, photographers, curators, artists, art dealers and collectors.

    Among those included in the exhibit are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Debbie Harry, Annie Leibovitz, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer, and Carolina Herrera.

    “”He photographed some of the most interesting figures of the ’70s and ’80s. … It’s a slice of the New York cultural world from that era,”” Baldwin said.

    “”He had a slightly offbeat reputation as a photographer and as a person, so people who were drawn to him tended to be people out of the ordinary.””

    Although all of the photographs in the exhibit are black and white and presented in the same size range, each portrait is as unique as the person photographed, presenting a different emotion, demeanor, and energy.

    “”I think it’s fair to say that portraits are always a collusion between the photographer and the sitter. They agree to present an image of the sitter,”” Baldwin said. “”I think these are ones where he (Mapplethorpe) thinks that they got to something. It’s also fair to say that he was interested in making people look good. That’s one reason he was a successful portrait photographer.””

    Mapplethorpe was an artist who was not only trying to make his subjects look good, but who was also challenging genres. By definition, face and expression are dominant in a portrait, but the faces of Mapplethorpe’s subjects are not always fully visible.

    “”Mapplethorpe was interested in playing with the idea: is it still a portrait if you can’t see their eyes, if they’re not looking toward the camera, if they’re wearing dark glasses, if their back is to the camera – all those kinds of things,”” Baldwin said.

    This exhibit may be especially attractive to a public who knows something about the celebrities photographed.

    “”This show in particular … does feature portraits of artists and people in the art world, and part of what our collection does so well is represent the creative process, not just the masterpieces … This collection shows these portraits of creative individuals presenting themselves to the camera,”” said Britt Salvesen, director and chief curator of the Center for Creative Photography.

    “”Robert Mapplethorpe: Portraits”” opens July 11 at the Center for Creative Photography and is free to the public. The exhibit was organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum of Palm Springs, Calif., with the assistance of Guest Curator Gordon Baldwin. The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Helene & Lou Galen Exhibition Fund and the Faye & Herman Sarkowsky Exhibition Fund.

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