Double Vision

Seeing patterns in the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Whether he was making studies of pretty flowers or images of sadomasochist sex acts graphic enough to provoke lawsuits against the galleries and museums that exhibited them, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe approached all his subjects with the same cool formality. Throughout his career, Mapplethorpe favored classic proportions, symmetry, and stark studio backdrops. In 1977 he had two shows concurrently in New York—one, in SoHo at the Holly Solomon Gallery, devoted to flora; and the other, in Chelsea at the Kitchen, exploring leather-daddy S&M. “Regardless of content, there was a lot of repetition in the way the pictures were composed,” explains Al Moran, a cofounder of OHWOW gallery in Los Angeles, where “As Above, So Below,” a survey of Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs, is on view through March 29. Each of the 50 or so pictures in the show—which intentionally focuses on his lesser known work—has a correlating image, selected for its formal likeness. This is how a fashion shot of a model in a pool taken for Italian Vogue in 1984 comes to find itself the sibling to Suzie’s Couch, 1986, an interior of the decorator Suzie Frankfurt’s Upper East Side apartment. “We wanted to underscore the similarities in his composition,” Moran says. “That’s what made his photographs so recognizable—you can always tell a Mapplethorpe.”

Suzie's Couch, 1986. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.