Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his sometimes controversial large-scale, highly stylized black and white photography. His work featured an array of subjects, including celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits and still-life images of flowers. His most controversial work is that of the underground bondage and sadomasochistic BDSM scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s of New York. The homoeroticism of this work fuelled a national debate over the public funding of controversial artwork.
Mapplethorpe was born and grew up as a Roman Catholic of English and Irish heritage in Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Floral Park, Queens, New York City. His parents were Harry and Joan Mapplethorpe, and he grew up with five brothers and sisters. He studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he majored in Graphic Arts, though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree. Mapplethorpe lived with his close friend Patti Smith (1967-74), and she supported him by working in bookstores. They created art together; and, even after he realized he was homosexual, they maintained a close relationship. From 1977 until 1980, Mapplethorpe was the lover of gay writer and Drummer magazine editor Jack Fritscher.
Mapplethorpe took his first photographs in the late 60's or early 70's using a Polaroid camera. In the mid-1970s, he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, and socialites. During this time, he became friends with New Orleans artist George Dureau, whose work had a profound impact on Mapplethorpe, so much so that he restaged many of Dureau's early photographs. By the 1980s his subject matter focused on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe's first studio was at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. In the 1980s, his mentor and lifetime companion art curator Sam Wagstaff bought a top-floor loft at 35 West 23rd Street for Robert, where he lived and used as his shooting space. He kept the Bond Street loft as his darkroom. Mapplethorpe died on the morning of March 9, 1989, 42 years old, in a Boston, Massachusetts, hospital from complications arising from AIDS. His body was cremated and his ashes were buried at St. John's Cemetery, Queens in New York, in his mother's grave, marked "Maxey".