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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Patti Smith on Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is one of those photographers I don't entirely get (John Gossage is another one - I can look and look at his books, but no, nothing comes through), but when I talked to people from London galleries a few weeks ago (for an article in the BJP), it was fascinating to hear the passion he generated and how this helped transform the British market for photography.

Tim Jeffries at Hamiltons showed his work first in the UK and Mapplethorpe prints redefined contemporary pricing.

“When I first met Robert Mapplethorpe I was relatively new to the business. I was so excited by being in his presence, I didn’t think of asking the price of his prints. Then I found out they were going for US $1,500. This was in 1987 when our other most expensive prints were US $1,000. I thought I was going to have trouble selling them, but they flew out of the door. It was a turning point because if you have the opportunity to work with a truly international superstar it brings a new market with new collectors and a new inspiration.”

And for the lovely Michael Diemar at Diemar and Noble, they started him on first the way of the collector and last year, the way of the gallerist.

"I started buying Mapplethorpe, the first picture I bought was a Maplethorpe flower, and gradually I worked myself backwards in time until I was buying 19th century Gustave Le Gray prints. You need a background either as a collector or working in an auction house to have a gallery that deals with the whole of the history of photography. You need a real feel for the photograph as an object."

Mapplethorpe was also a great self-promoter and Just Kids, the recently published autobiography by Patti Smith details his transformation from small time hustler to global superstar. Another one to put on the to-buy list.

Edmund White does a great review here. 

Patti and Robert were both born in 1946 and both were raised by poor parents, she in Germantown, Pennsylvania and then New Jersey, he by a Catholic family on Long Island. Like all ­lovers, they told endless ­stories to each other about their childhoods: "We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl ­trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad." They both succeeded. As a child he'd been a ­mama's boy and had made necklaces for his mother, but later, as an adult, he identified himself in the public mind through his photographs with pain and blood and exotic sexual ­practices, and even with something as seemingly transgressive (but actually innocent) as pictures of child ­nudity. She had held factory jobs in New Jersey, where the other workers accused her of being a communist ­because she was reading a bilingual edition of Rimbaud's Illuminations. She'd given birth out of wedlock, as we used to say, to a child she'd had to put up for adoption. Later, when she lived with Mapplethorpe in Brooklyn, she turned herself into a ­disciplined poet and breadwinner. For a long spell she supported the skinny, charismatic Mapplethorpe, who at the time was making "altars" of found objects somewhat in the manner of the American surrealist Joseph Cornell. He discovered photography only later, but once he settled on it as a career he was tenacious and highly tactical in plotting his rise in the world.

From The Guardian.


Rob Hann said...

Yes, I've never got Mapplethorpe either although Man In a Polyester Suit is certainly a striking image.

Brenda said...

I saw the retrospective in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. The printing was astounding. Really. Normal silver gelatin stuff, but the range of tones, especially in the blacks, was stunning.

mark page said...

I did a post a couple ofyears ago on him and illustraited it with a photograph called 'Chains' To this day I still get several hits a day worldwide with the search 'mapplethorpe chains'

J. Wesley Brown said...

John Szarkowski:

"When critics don't know what to say about a good photographer who uses the camera simply and directly they say that the photographer uses the camera simply and directly. In fact, most ordinary and bad photographers also use the camera simply and directly. Even the most ambitious photographers--whether or not they are good artists--use the camera simply and directly. Robert Mapplethorpe used the camera simply and directly, but he was, alas, not really an interesting photographer."

From this:


Sean Cousin said...

Man In a Polyester Suit is an excellent image, one of his best (or one of my favorites). It is a very erotic image. I wonder how much this relates to the removal of the pubic hair, which somehow makes the image, the penis, feminine. This contradiction is one of the reasons the image is so powerful. There are other excellent images also. While I agree with comment that overall he was not a very interesting photographer, to have produced the few excellent images that he did would be good enough for me!

colin pantall said...

Thanks Rob, Brenda, Mark, J.W. and Sean for the comments - lots of different ideas there but perhaps they all come together somewhere. Wonderful prints, some striking images but still... the Szarkowski quote is perfect. You didn't make that up now did you, J.W.. I try and make up at least 20% of everything I say.

J. Wesley Brown said...

That's why your blog's more popular than mine, Colin. No, I kid.

colin pantall said...

Most people come to my blog for Amanda Knox, Panayiotis Lamprou and Myra Hindley, J.W. That is the secret of this blog's success.