Mapplethorpe, black and white rebel

Mapplethorpe, black and white rebel

Controversy and censorship return to accompany the irreverent North American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe , almost 30 years after his death. A couple of weeks ago the artist was again censored at the Serralves Museum in Oporto . Twenty photographs were taken out of the sample because they were considered pornographic, in the same way that they had been censored 40 years ago in New York, causing closings of galleries, flight of sponsors and an accusation in the Senate. The snapshots, some sadomasochistic cut, were withdrawn against the will of the director of the museum, Joao Ribas , who had personally selected almost 200 photographs, which ultimately cost him his resignation. To make matters worse, the Serralves Foundation opted to put another group of works in a room presided over by a warning sign: “Access to minors under 18 is forbidden”, stuck to the wall with an improvised zeal. Why is Mapplethorpe’s work still controversial in our day? Perhaps the answer is the documentary ” Black, White + Gray” , a title that we premiered exclusively this week.



Black White + Gray” works as a portrait of the relationship between Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff, whose mutual devotion to photography grew at the same time as the love they professed. “Black White + Gray” is a documentary that delves into the reinvidication of photography as art, according to Wagstaff, who is as necessary for existence as food, claiming that he knew himself through it. ” Although he can give you the Same ecstatic feeling as a painting, photography is more mysterious, through a dark and alchemical process is given the semblance of reality, it is like art, it looks like art in many instances, but thank God there is something more I had a conversion with photography “, according to his own words.

Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe discovered and collected together anti-aesthetic photography, which they considered a pleasure well. Will it be reality, pleasure and conscience that is still scary? Wagstaff, educated at Yale, was born in the cradle of gold and took Mapplethorpe out of the suburbs of Queens, two men whose origins were deeply contrasted. Wagstaff gave him a camera, bought him the studio-house he needed to work and introduced him to the world of art, a world that, apparently, was waiting for him, creating the man who continues to provoke controversy. Wagstaff was behind the initial entry of Mapplethorpe into the art world in New York, which soon rose quickly.

What distinguishes “Black White + Gray”, a documentary that bears the same name as an exhibition by Wagstaff, is precisely the portrait of this sentimental relationship between them, being the first one to deal with the figure of his partner and the influence he had on his life. Although reality is sometimes treacherous and the name that has transcended in history has been Mapplethorp e, the memory of Wagstaff has been totally forgotten. As the Chilean director Patricio Guzmán affirms, in the documentary format the most essential thing is to find a good character that guides the story you want to tell. Something that the American writer Dominick Dunne already anticipated: “I always thought that Wagstaff would be a good character for a book”.

“Black White + Gray” also explores the relationship that both men had with the poet and music Patti Smith. As Smith describes, the three met in an amplified period of existence where time blew, during the 70s, when the three went together everywhere. The poet and the photographer had been partners before, and despite their break, their connection lasted over time, even after the death of the photographer, as we analyzed later from the documentary about the life of Patti Smith. And is that Mapplethorne strongly influenced the life of the legendary artist as shown in his book “Just Kids” , which tells the vicissitudes of their relationship and soon will launch a new illustrated version anticipating the 30 years of death of the photographer.

To get to know the poet and singer Patti Smith better, it is essential to immerse yourself in the documentary “Dream of life”, filmed over twelve years of her life. In its almost two hours, we reviewed the intense life of the singer, from his escape to New York and meeting a young Mapplethorne to his establishment at the Chelsea Hotel, where he met the most influential artists of the time and where he served as model for the photographer. After the success of the disc “Horses”, the career of Smith stands at the same time that the life of Mapplethrone begins to die down. In ’89, the photographer would die of AIDS, converting the photos that illustrate the album “Dream of life” as their last collaboration together.

In addition to her poetry and music, what deepens Patti Smith in this documentary is in her losses: the death of Mapplethorpe, her husband: the guitarist Fred Sonic Smith and a month after the unexpected death of his beloved brother Todd Smith. She talks about those times, where even her friends were still alive, Smith is almost the only survivor of her generation and as she tells in the documentary, we are the voice of a generation. The poet thought that these people were not dead, they did not sleep, they had awakened from the dream of life. Patti Smith expresses that: “we all carry a dead man on the wrist”. Already in “Just Kids” the poet wrote “Why can not I write something that resuscitates the dead? That is my deepest desire . ” The poet visits death in this film, as everything she does, in her own way, at her own pace, shows different curious objects that the photographer gave her and with all naturalness takes in her hands a chest that has the remains of Mapplethorpe: ” I like to have them, I can travel and take them with me ” and showing them to the camera, he notes: ” people think that someone’s remains are like ashes, but no, they are like sea shells “. She talks about how her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, lives in her children, with qualities that she does not have, even though she did not raise them. In other planes he embraces the tomb of Arthur Rimbaud, poet whom he admired so much and remembers the support he received from William Burroughs and Bob Dylan .

He recalls not only his career but different stages of his life, his childhood in the modest home of his parents in a kitchen surrounded by cows but where he never missed a book, when talking about that period he says: ” When you are a child you move without effort in the unknown, in youth one defeats the feeling of staying elsewhere “, that’s when Patti moves to New York, a place that inspires her prayer to NY: ” New York is what seduced me. New York is what shaped me. New York is what deformed me. New York is what perverted me. New York is what made me. And New York is what I love too . ” There he meets Mapplethorpe, in a stage that he defines as a golden plane. Patti Smith says that since she has used reason she tried to be free and always wanted to be an artist and a poet, in that search she discovered her rhythm and the roots of her voice and ended up being a vocalist of a rock and roll band, something she never imagined . The poet, legend of punk, feminist icon, who has always been in favor of preserving our planet, against the war, transferred the responsibility to exercise and use the voice, accused the former president of the United States, George Bush , openly in his recitals, inciting young people to appropriate the streets, in search of freedom, for the poet: “People have the power”. The fascinating documentary works as an intimate diary, in the style of Patti Smith.