Life & Culture

The Art of Photography: Robert Mapplethorpe’s Top Ten Quotes

To mark what would have been his 71st birthday, Another Man brings together a selection of his best quotes

Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most fearless image-makers of the 20th century. The photographer, who would be celebrating his 71st birthday tomorrow, shocked the art world with his images of female bodybuilders, naked black men and BDSM culture. His provocative subject matter aside, his photographs were technically brilliant and are widely accepted as some of the finest work of the period. Mapplethorpe continues to fascinate today: he is the subject of a recent HBO documentary, and of an upcoming biopic starring Matt Smith and Marianne Rendón as his friend and collaborator Patti Smith. On top of that, the artist recently inspired Raf Simons’ S/S17 collection, which you can see in the gallery below.

To mark his birthday, Another Man brings together a selection of his best quotes on the topic of photography. Aspiring photographers, take heed.

1. “I don’t think that there’s that much difference between a photograph of a fist up someone’s ass and a photograph of carnations in a bowl.”

2. “When I have sex with someone I forget who I am. For a minute I even forget I’m human. It’s the same thing when I’m behind a camera. I forget I exist.”

3. “I never liked photography. Not for the sake of photography. I like the object. I like the photographs when you hold them in your hand.”

4. “With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.”

5. “I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today’s existence.”

6. “I think that it was a great advantage to go into photography not knowing much about it. Not thinking. I think one of the problems with many photographers today is that they never see for themselves, but just like everybody else...”

7. “Too many photographers use the camera to avoid participating in things. They become professional observers.”

8. “I like to look at pictures, all kinds. And all those things you absorb come out subconsciously one way or another. You’ll be taking photographs and suddenly know that you have resources from having looked at a lot of them before. There is no way you can avoid this. But this kind of subconscious influence is good, and it certainly can work for one. In fact, the more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.”

9. “The whole point of being an artist is to learn about yourself. The photographs, I think, are less important than the life that one is leading.”

10. “The photographs that are art have to be separated from the rest – then preserved.”

More on Robert Mapplethorpe:

Being Mapplethorpe’s Muse