As part of our celebration of LGBT History month, let’s take a look at the life and career of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.


Robert Mapplethorpe


4 November 1946


9 March 1989, aged 42

Early life

Mapplethorpe grew up in Queens in New York City. He studied Graphic Arts in Brooklyn.

In 1967, Mapplethorpe moved in to live with artist and singer Patti Smith. It was around this time that he began taking photographs.


Mapplethorpe began by photographing his friends and acquaintances in New York City.

In the late 70s, Mapplethorpe began to explore the fetish scene. At that time, he was in a relationship with Jack Fritscher – the editor of fetish magazine Drummer. They were well known at fetish club Mineshaft.

By the 1980s, Mapplethorpe’s subject matter had moved on to focus on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe worked primarily in a studio, and almost exclusively in black and white


In the summer of 1989, Mapplethorpe’s travelling solo exhibit – The Perfect Moment – brought national attention to the issues of public funding for the arts, as well as questions of censorship and the obscene. A gallery in Washington D.C. decided not to host the exhibition due to the controversial subject matter of the photographs. The issue became a matter of public debate and was raised in Congress. The controversy heightened Mapplethorpe’s reputation and increased the value of his work.