Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the most widely recognized American photographers of the 20th century, known best for his stylized images, including portraiture, nudes, and still life. After studying drawing, painting, and sculpture at Pratt Institute in the mid-60s, he began experimenting with various materials and assemblage, later incorporating Polaroid prints into his collages. During the 70s, Mapplethorpe became primarily focused on photography, using a medium-format camera, increasingly interested in documenting New York’s subculture scene, as well as the friends, artists, musicians, and various people he was acquainted with.
Throughout the early and mid-80s, he produced a wide collection of images that simultaneously challenged and exemplified classical aesthetics, while introducing different techniques and formats, including large Polaroids, photogravure, Cibachrome, platinum, and dye transfer prints. Exhibitions of his work in the late 80s, often controversial in content, sparked debates about public funding for the arts, censorship, First Amendment rights, and broadly, what defines art. His work continues to be the subject of numerous gallery and institutional exhibitions, and is included in the public collections of major museums throughout the world, such as the Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, LACMA, and the Getty Museum.