In Mapplethorpe's photographs, the world of inorganic form is absent save as it is defined by the organic. What we think of as Leonard's circle, and Leonardo's square inscribed within it, are evoked by many of the astonishing bodies, astonishingly posed in Black Book(1986), and indeed the geometry of these cherished figures is insistently caressed by deliberate and theatrical lighting, by occasional props of flowers - the sheaf of six calla lilies held by Dennis Speight, 1983, alludes to a potential orgasmic flowering, a sort of seminal bouquet - and by the photographer's repeated assertion that it is the bodies of black men which will take the light, and the darkness, with the most resolute formal determination. In most instances, Mapplethorpe's images of the male nude are isolated, solitary. Exceptionally the drama is offered as dialogue (an embrace, an agon between parallel black and white forms) [Thomas and Dovana]; characteristically, the "subject" is a lyric efflorescence within the intervals and analogies of a single body. Moreover this single body itself will not be taken whole but cropped (literally, anatomized) so as to declare its symmetrical relations intramurally, as it were, without reference to classical canons of wholeness, of completed form - rather, with regard to new proportions, new affinities, among them figures which include the genitals in unabashed exploration of what has always been treated as the body's disgraced member.


Notes courtesy of Richard Howard in his essay "The Mapplethorpe Effect" in the book Robert Mapplethorpe by Richard Marshall, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1988.