robert mapplethorpe / bush
For me, the cloud of controversy surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs becomes a filter through which I see them.
Mapplethorpe’s focus on taboo/pornographic content courts outrage. But it is an outrage unlike the allegations of child pornography leveled against Sally Mann for Immediate Family or claims of exploitation dogging Nan Goldin since The Ballad of Sexual Dependency; it is intended. Mapplethorpe invites a visceral reaction, even if that means pissing someone right the fuck right off.
Were that all he were about he’d be no more relevant than any other shock-solely-for-shock’s-sake artist. What makes Mapplethorpe matter is his realization that for good, bad or ill: even being pissed off at it necessitates at least some degree of visceral engagement with the work.
A dangerous thing when the work possesses a deep wonderment and the taboo/pornographic content is carefully underscored with an uncommon intimacy. Even more upsetting when technical craft is so stunningly refined—and not for its own sake, as a testament to a belief in the labor owed as a result of being allowed to bear witness to profound beauty.
This is may be why Mapplethorpe’s work remains controversial—one either sees and embraces its beauty or the dissonance between authorial intent & audience reaction creates a deafening feedback loop.
(Then again, I could just be floored by finally finding a depiction of fisting that despite being a bit too much of a close-up is masterfully executed and resonates with my experiences of feeling my hand encircled tightly with wetness and warmth.)