Mid­night Blooms

Robert Map­plethorpe’s flo­ral por­traits cap­ture the darker side of beauty. By Ly­dia Slater.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

It seems counter-in­tu­itive that Robert Map­plethorpe, an artist fa­mous for ex­plicit ho­mo­sex­ual erot­ica, should also be known for stylised pho­to­graphs of flow­ers. Ac­cord­ing to his friend and former as­sis­tant Dim­itri Levas, Map­plethorpe orig­i­nally be­gan tak­ing flo­ral pictures as a way of teach­ing him­self pho­to­graphic tech­niques. “They were fleshy with a beau­ti­ful struc­ture that he could prac­tice on,” Levas ex­plains. “And he knew that flow­ers were a sub­ject that would sell.”

All the same, as a flick through this new book of Map­plethorpe’s flower pho­tog­ra­phy shows, his dark vi­sion is al­ways ev­i­dent. Un­der his gaze, chrysan­the­mums snarl with petals curved like fangs; an or­chid throws a devil’s shadow; lilies ap­pear pri­apic. “He was con­scious that flow­ers are the sex or­gans of plants, and his way of look­ing at them gave them a sen­sual edge,” says Levas, who has writ­ten the in­tro­duc­tion to the col­lec­tion. “Patti Smith told me that when Robert’s mother was go­ing to visit his loft, he switched the pictures of gen­i­talia on the wall for flow­ers, but he told Patti: ‘There’s no dif­fer­ence.’” Map­plethorpe Flora: The Com­plete Flow­ers, by Mark Hol­born, et al. (Phaidon)

Or­chid by Robert Map­plethorpe, 1982, dye trans­fer

Un­ti­tled by Robert Map­plethorpe, 1975, colour po­laroid

Robert Map­plethorpe’s self-por­trait in 1982

Map­plethorpe Flora: The Com­plete Flow­ers by Mark Hol­born, et al.

Poppy by Robert Map­plethorpe, 1988, dye trans­fer

Tulip by Robert Map­plethorpe, 1985, gelatin sil­ver print

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