Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 - March 9, 1989) was an American artist and photographer born in Floral Park on Long Island, New York.
Most of his photographs he made in studio. His most common themes were portraits of (now) famous people (including Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, and Patti Smith), S&M-related subjects, and nude (frequently homoerotic) studies. He is perhaps best remembered, however, for his series of closeup photographs of flowers. These highly polished and stylized photographs showed the plants' reproductive parts in extreme detail, intended to echo his more conventional homoerotic works.
Mapplethorpe's specialty was considering his photography equal to paintings, and so giving them quite exotic framing and printing. He did indeed live in a time when photography was just being accepted as one of the real arts. He was a great networker, never losing a chance to promote his work, and never failing to invite all his acquaintances to his gallery openings.
Toward the end of his life, the frank, erotic nature of much of his later work triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of challenging (some would argue pornographic) artworks. Many conservative and religious organizations, such as the American Family Association, opposed public funding of his works and of their exhibition, and he became something of a cause celebre for both sides in the debate on the future of the National Endowment for the Arts. The 1990 exhibition of his The Perfect Moment show (which included seven sadomasochistic portraits) in Cincinnati resulted in the prosecution of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and its director Dennis Barrie on charges of "pandering obscenity". Barrie and the CCAC were subsequently acquitted, but this failed to stifle the raging debate about Mapplethorpe's work.
Robert Mapplethorpe died from complications arising from AIDS in 1989.