Blast from the Past: Robert Mapplethorpe by Gary Indiana

Gary Indiana I wonder also about the S&M pictures, which I don’t think have ever been shown in New York.

Robert Mapplethorpe Not as a group of pictures. Some of them may have been shown—there were some in a show at Robert Miller, but I never made an issue of it…

Gary Indiana Were those things that were happening for the camera, or were they things that were happening and you were there with the camera?

Robert Mapplethorpe They were happening for the camera. Almost always. Maybe one or two documentary kinds of situations that I found myself in, where it was somewhat of a blur because I was documenting something that was already happening. But for the most part, those situations were created with my photographs in mind. The situation had already existed, they weren’t people play-acting and doing something they hadn’t done before; they had put it together for that photo session. So I had a very large amount of control over the situation.

Gary Indiana Do you think these specific pictures have caused problems for you, critically, for instance?

Robert Mapplethorpe They have. I mean it’s funny. Even with people who maybe just know about them. It’s been an element that people can’t take. It’s funny to think about them. It’s past history to me, but I think they’ve influenced the way people look at my pictures, even though they might not have even seen the S&M pictures. I mean, I’ve had reviews and such, especially in the gay press, where they’ve been really nasty about them. They attacked me as a person, and decided I was a certain kind of person because only a certain kind of person would take those kind of pictures. It was so weird. It really depressed me. It isn’t negative criticism that makes you feel good—though, in the long run, it doesn’t hurt in terms of your own mystique or whatever. But that certainly isn’t something you’d go out for. I mean I’ve never—I think people thought I was so clever I wanted that kind of reception. I didn’t want that.