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The Robert Mapplethorpe documentary, from 1988--one year before he died--is an excellent examination of one of the most controversial of American photographers. British documentarian Nigel Finch does an outstanding job fusing interviews with Mr. Mapplethorpe himself, with critic and author Edmund White, and with several of Mapplethorpe's subjects as well, with numerous shots of the man's work.
Mapplethorpe, gay, did not hesitate to photograph what he wanted to without fear of reprisal or censorship. Indeed, a good number of his pieces were not shown in the documentary at its original airing on PBS with the comment, "Considered Unsuitable for Viewing On This Transmission." His openly sexual work can at times be more than shocking, but it is always powerful and direct; as critic Lynn Davies says in the documentary, he did not pose people but photographed them doing what they would normally do in the course of their lives.
Yet his work was not confined to human sexual shots; as well, it incorporated startling photos of flowers captured close up at angles that revealed their own inherent sexuality. Mapplethorpe was one of the greatest photographers in American culture and it's good that he was with us for as long as he was.
He will be missed.
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