January 03, 2008
Robert Mapplethorpe - Beings with a thousand faces.
By SANTIAGO PICATOSTE - Versatility, identity, and sexuality are concepts that have been widely explored in photography in the 20th century and afterwards.
Within the diversity of styles are artists who, through their work, directly or indirectly delve into the autobiographical genre. Some of them even openly declare their philosophy and lifestyle, within the limits of their personality. In this case, the subject of the work is always the creator, the artist him or herself. All you can do is transmit an illusion, as though it were something else.
That is the function of representation: bestowing the illusion of being a subject on an image.
In the works of Robert Mapplethorpe (New York, 1946-Boston. 1989), Nan Goldin (Washington D.C., 1953) and Cindy Sherman (New Jersey, 1954) we find these premises.
Around 1966 Mapplethorpe settles in to share a little room in the Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith, who was his girlfriend at the time. He started taking his first black-and-white photos. It would not be until the mid-seventies when his work came to focus exclusively on his closest surrounding – friends, porn films actors, sex clubs, etc. In the eighties his work achieved international recognition, his message became refined, centring on explicit beauty, in spite of using elements of sado-masochistic culture.
For her part, Goldin cannot help documenting her life, practically from the very first snapshot. The events that marked her childhood were decisive for her themes. After the tragic suicide of her sister, she was forced to grow up with several foster families in different towns in New England. Fortunately, at the age of 15 she entered the Satya Community School of Boston, where she experimented with images from fashion magazines. But the greatest contribution to her iconography was the summers spent in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the time a destination frequented by the gay community. The friends she made there would become the absolute protagonists of her work.
After graduating from the fine arts school in Boston she settled in Manhattan, where she continued photographing the people around her and decided to narrate their sentimental and sex lives: initiation, plenitude, sexual dependency, depression, poverty, love, solitude, violence and illness. At the end of the eighties, Goldin entered a detoxification clinic. This was where her well-know self-portraits were developed, and she made the autobiographical documentary I’ll be your mirror.
Absolute limelight inundates the staged photography work of Sherman. Untitled Film Stills. 69 small-format black-and-white shots brought her international recognition in 1977. Film heroines who demonstrate the limits of masculine stereotypes on femininity. In her later works society’s fixation with feminine identity has been a complex play on roles. Her representations of violence and sexuality using different masks and prosthetic body parts did not escape controversy. Avoiding euphemism she uses materials such as excrements, mucus, blood and prosthetic penises to realize her own particular vision of the still life.
When we observe the works of these three artists, do we see the authentic portraits, or the person depicted as an object? At the end of the day, they seem more like autobiographical portraits than self-portraits.