Review: Robert Mapplethorpe: Fashion Show

11th September-5th October 2013, Alison Jacques

Gallery, London, United Kingdom

By Azadeh Fatehrad

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Robert Mapplethorpe: Fashion Show is an exhibition at the Alison Jacques Gallery in London, curated by Mapplethorpe’s first boyfriend, David Croland. Even though the title suggests that the fashion show is the main theme of the exhibition, I found it to be more of an overview of Mapplethorpe’s artistic vision, career and private life.

The main exhibition is divided into a number of different sections displayed on separate walls; together but, at the same time, each section forms a discrete unit in the display. The first wall showcases Mapplethorpe’s early career photographs for Vogue. The black and white images follow a simple composition: the figure is located in the central point of the image. The remaining part of the frame is filled with abstract form: such as a curve of a wall, part of a column or even a small table. This combination of real figure and abstract forms present an elegant beauty which is known as Mapplethorpe’s style of fashion photography. This leads to other walls in the same room which display his nude photographs and commissions. A smaller room holds snapshots of his private life and his wide circle of eclectic friends including Yves Saint Laurent, Patti Smith and others. Mapplethorpe’s necklaces are also displayed in the second room.

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Mapplethorpe is famous for his fashion photography, especially his nude photographs. It was very interesting to discover that he was actually born into a religious family in Queens, New York. His religious upbringing and background in contrast to the nude photographs that he took seem rather at odds. As a young adult, Mapplethorpe left home and moved to Manhattan where all the excitement was happening. He relished the night life and people of that cosmopolitan city took him far beyond his conservative family circle. Indeed, New York seemed to provide the inspiration he needed, as it was where Mapplethorpe flourished as a fashion photographer. With his nude images, he crossed the boundaries of representation during the 1970s. His subject matters such as nude male and female body builders were considered controversial at that time.

Mapplethorpe’s style of photography was to apply a classical representation to unconventional subject matter. For instance, his nude photographs of the male body follow Michelangelo’s notion of idealised beauty. His photographs thus presented controversial subject matter to the public in a palatable manner.

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Personally, I found that one of the most striking images in the exhibition was from Mapplethorpe’s early career at Vogue called Italian Vogue. A female model at the centre of the image walks towards the camera, into a swimming pool.  With her sleek black swimsuit, white-turbanned hair and elongated reflection she imbues the glamour of a catwalk model. Additionally, the reflected wall and rails create the image of a path and a platform from which the model’s movement might be viewed.This unusual manner of rendering the prosaic (in this case the swimming pool) extraordinary, is a typical trait of Mapplethorpe’s image-making.

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Daido Moriyama's best photograph: TightsDaido Moriyama, Tights, Silver gelatin print. 34.3 x 41.7cm

The exhibition fully presents Mapplethorpe’s unique career, his style of photography, his private life and his unique vision towards erotic images and the expression of the unusual. His interest in the erotic in fact clearly appears in a number of images. In the photo Milton Moore, it seems that the boundary between fashion and erotic photography has entirely disappeared. The photograph is no longer faithful to fashion, but is firmly directed towards erotic expression. He also referred to the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, who was fascinated by the city’s back streets with their profuse sexual scenes. Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs of Tokyo represent public space as an erotic platform. In Milton Moore, the composition and texture of the fabric have many elements to suggest a highly charged sexual scene rather than a fashion photo shoot.

Robert Mapplethorpe, with his diverse passion for fashion photography, touched upon many different areas, such as sexuality, beauty, glamour and classical perfectionism. His works are timeless and enduring examples of image making.

The images were also displayed at the Alison Jacques Gallery stand at the Frieze Art Fair, London just after this exhibition.

Link:

Alison Jacques Gallery:

http://www.alisonjacquesgallery.com/exhibitions/98/installation_shots/

Contributor:

Azadeh Fatehrad is an artist and researcher whose practice focuses on photography and video installation in the context of gender identity. She has exhibited her work internationally in London, New York, Tehran, and Vancouver. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Photography Department at the Royal College of Art, London. Website: www.azadehfatehrad.com

 

Review: Robert Mapplethorpe: Fashion Show

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