There Hasn’t Been a Mapplethorpe Documentary Since His Death — Until Now

Update 3/7/16: Today HBO released the trailer for its Mapplethorpe documentary, Look at the Pictures, premiering April 4…


A just-announced HBO documentary, Look at the Pictures, takes viewers inside the fearless mind and genius of Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the 20th century’s most controversial artists for his graphic yet unapologetic photographs, most notably his homoerotic images of BDSM.

The film, the latest from filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Robert Barbato (Inside Deep Throat), is the first feature documentary about the artist since his death in 1989. Because the directors had complete access to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation’s archives, the doc will show never-before-seen photos and footage — much of it uncomfortable, by design. “Even his most shocking and forbidden images,” they said in a statement, “are included without blurs, without snickers. In other words, exactly as the artist intended.”


Timed to coincide with retrospectives at LACMA and the Getty, Look at the Pictures follows Mapplethorpe from his art college days in the 60s through his AIDS diagnosis in 1988 and his death a year later. Along the way it covers his romance-turned-friendship with Patti Smith, now the stuff of legend, and his involvement with the bondage scene of 1970s New York. It includes interviews with friends and family, namely Debbie Harry, Fran Lebowitz, and Brooke Shields, as well as his sister, Nancy, and brother, Edward.

The title serves to mock Senator Jesse Helms and his scurrilous campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for funding one of Mapplethorpe’s more explicit exhibits. On the Senate floor, Helms shrieked, “Look at the pictures! Look at the pictures!…I’m going to ask that all the pages, all the ladies, and maybe all the staff leave the Chamber so that senators can see exactly what they’re voting on.”

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, April 4, 2016, HBO


Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait (1980)


Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol (1980s)


Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait (1980s)


Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerard Malanga (1971)


Robert Mapplethorpe, Leather Crotch (1980)


Robert Mapplethorpe (1970s)


Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait (1985)


Robert Mapplethorpe, Partice (1977)


Hands of Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Hotel Chelsea (1969)


Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe (1975)


Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Norman Seeff (1969)


Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait (1980)


Robert Mapplethorpe, photo booth (c. 1970)


Robert Mapplethorpe, Pictures (1977)


Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait (1988)


Young Robert Mapplethorpe (c. 1951)

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