Never intending to become a famous photographer, let alone a famous controversial photographer, the enigmatic and darkly handsome Robert Mapplethorpe began his career as a hobby, taking Polaroids of his friends, like singer Patti Smith (who used his photo for the cover of her iconic Horses album).
Despite a varied range of subject matters from celebrity portraiture to flowers, to sculpture, it is Mapplethorpe's homoerotic and BDSM images that he is most associated with thanks to some highly publicized controversies. One scandal involved the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC refusing to go through with a posthumous show when the “sexually suggestive” photos were revealed. The decision cost the gallery a one and a half million dollar donation from artist and Mapplethorpe friend Lowell Blair Nesbitt.
Another controversy arose in Cincinnati when a travelling exhibit resulted in an unsuccessful lawsuit, another in England where a book of his was confiscated from the University of Central England followed by another unsuccessful lawsuit.
Polarizing and talented, Mapplethorpe was an intriguing figure in art and culture who was taken too soon by the AIDs epidemic in 1989.