Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits, photos of flowers and nude men. The frank, homosexual eroticism of some of the work of his middle period triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of artworks.
Mapplethorpe was born and grew up as a Roman Catholic of English and Irish heritage in Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Floral Park, Queens, New York. His parents were Harry and Joan Mapplethorpe and he grew up with two sisters and two brothers. He studied for a B.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he majored in graphic arts, though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree. Mapplethorpe lived with his partner Patti Smith from 1967–1974, and she supported him by working in bookstores. They created art together, and even after he realized he was gay they maintained a close relationship.
Mapplethorpe took his first photographs soon thereafter using a Polaroid camera. In the mid-1970s, he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, and socialites. In the 1980s he refined his aesthetic, photographing statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe's first studio was at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. In the 1980s, his mentor and lifetime companion, art curator Sam Wagstaff gave him $500,000 to buy the top-floor loft at 35 West 23rd Street, where he lived and had his shooting space. He kept the Bond Street loft as his darkroom.