These pictures were all recently exhibited in exhibitions dedicated to the work of the late photographer, and feature 1970s /80s adult film stars Terri Hall (above), Marc Stevens, Veronica Vera, and Peter Berlin.
Terri Hall and Marc Stevens are both the subjects of upcoming Rialto Report features, and we have interviewed Veronica Vera for our podcast series.
Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his sensitive yet blunt treatment of controversial subject-matter in the large-scale, highly stylized black and white medium of 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 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 took his first photographs in the late 1960s or early 1970s 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.
The above picture of Terri Hall was taken at Mapplethorpe’s first studio at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. Terri had heard about Robert Mapplethorpe and turned up at his studio one day asking if he would like to photograph her. This Polaroid was taken in 1974, and was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2008. It was called ‘Untitled’ and the model was listed as ‘Unknown’.
Mapplethorpe took a famous picture of porn star Marc Stevens in 1976 called ‘Mark Stevens (Mr 10½)’.
From Arthur Danto’s essay on this image:
“Consider Mark Stevens (Mr. 10 ½) of 1976. Mark Stevens is shown in profile, his powerful body arched over his spectacular penis (Mr. 10 ½), which he displays laid out but unengorged along the top of a linen-covered box, on which he also leans his elbow. The picture is wider than it is high, by a ratio of 5 to 4, almost forcing Mark Stevens to bend over, despite which the space is too small to contain him: he is cropped at the shoulder, so we do not see his head, as well as at the knee, and along the back of the leg and the front of the bicep. Little matter: the one anatomical feature that is shown integrally is doubtless where Mark Stevens’s identity lay in 1975, and his stomach is held in to give that even greater amplitude. Mark Stevens is wearing a black leather garment, cut away to expose his buttocks and his genitals, something like the tights affected by the sports at Roissy, where “0” underwent her sweetly recounted martyrdoms. And there is a tiny tattoo on his arm, of a devil with a pitchfork and fléched tail, connoting a playful meanness. Formally, we may admire the interesting space bounded by elbow, box surface, belly and chest, a sort of display case in which Mark Stevens’s sex is framed as something rare and precious. Cropping, inner and outer space, calculated shadows and controlled backlighting-these belong to the vocabulary of high photographic art, the sort that Weston lavished on peppers in the 1930s, or which Mapplethorpe himself devoted, in 1985, to an eggplant, also laid out on a table, echoing Mark Stevens’s recumbent phallus. Still life and nude or semi-nude portrait interanimate one another, here and throughout the show, and as a photograph, the study of Mark Stevens, quite as the other studies of leather-clad gays, is of an artistic order altogether different from the images that must have found their way into magazines of that era devoted to pain, humiliation and sexual subjugation, with their advertisements of sadistic gear-whips and chains and shackles, hoods and leather wear (the he-man’s equivalent to sexy lingerie) and the pathetic promises of ointments and exercises designed and guaranteed to increase length, diameter and staying power.”
In 1982, Mapplethorpe took a series of portraits of soon-to-be adult film actress Veronica Vera. Veronica describes first
“On the night I met Robert Mapplethorpe he presented a slide show of black male nudes in a men’s center located in the basement of a West Village Church. It seems incongruous in light of how renowned an artist he has become to think of him in such lowly surroundings”
For Veronica’s full account of her meeting with the photographer, you can read her essay ‘The Lost Mapplethorpe’.
Peter Berlin was also the subject of several Robert Mapplethorpe photographs. Born Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene in 1942, Berlin is a photographer, artist, filmmaker, clothing designer/sewer, model and gay sex symbol. In the early to mid-1970s, Berlin created some of the most recognizable gay male erotic imagery of his time. Serving as his own photographer, model, and fashion designer, Berlin redefined self-portraiture and became an international sensation.
Peter became a friend of Mapplethorpe, who was one of the only outside photographers to have photographed Peter.
Mapplethorpe was know to turn up to the occasional adult film industry party in New York. Here is a picture of him, with bodybuilder and muse Lisa Lyon, at a porn awards event in 1982.