Posts Tagged ‘art’

On the Evolution of the Robert Mapplethorpe Photo Book

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Dubious beginnings, a common trait of all good books, of ones worth remembering, worth recommending, worth reprinting, worth reproducing. We speak of both introductions and of origins. To introduce, our subject is what appears to be a book of photography by Robert Mapplethorpe, large and heavy, hardcover, nicely bound, and coming with one of those jacket-like cases you slide the book into — just in case you didn’t yet realise the book’s obvious value.

How it came to be here, sitting edgeways upon my floor, was that a girl from work asked the question if I had ever heard of the man, the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. I answered in the negative. The next day arrived this mass binding of pages and a warning about the material to be found between the two red pages, rather explicit gay bordering-on-porn imagery, the reason it was not to be handed around the office willy-nilly. Too large and bulky to carry, a good strapping to the floor of the Vespa saw it arrive home safe and sound.

I expelled a thought of wonder at who in their right mind would still buy a book of such massive expanse into physical existence. Flipped through the pages a few times, noticing the few celebrity likenesses the most and of course the overt homosexual content, one reason, I imagine, that our lender attracted a certain kinship to this photographer. Kinship, awe, and admiration, reason enough for this lofty purchase. That and a chance to strut it upon coffee tables when friends come to play, an aid to outward expression, or to lend to someone at work who will subsequently analyse its evolutionary origins in existence. Either way.

Tangible, an object, and replicable, an ideal subject. This photo book, still thriving it seems in an ever-changing environment, a fluctuating market, has evolved some very specialised traits that allow it to survive. It is big and well bound, suitable for showing off to friends; it has pretty pictures that when looked at correctly, in the right frame of mind, will challenge the viewer’s way of thinking about the word (we talking about art here); and it is about a quasi-celebrity photographer and so gives the reader some kind of knowledge about the history of society in which they are living. Other traits are common to virtually all books, such that it contains pages, a front and back cover, and is relatively portable. Perfectly fit for reproduction.

Designed? Surely not. This book evolved, dubiously, in minds, in markets, in existence, in this post, from its countless predecessors. It will continue.

Additional resources: Artsy

Photograph of a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a man in the tub