Robert Mapplethorpe (Queens, 1946) enrolled at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1963, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 from artist and filmmaker Sandy Daley and began producing his own photographs. That same year he and Patti Smith moved into the Chelsea Hotel.
In 1973, the Light Gallery in New York City mounted his first solo gallery exhibition, "Polaroids." Two years later he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances; he also worked on commercial projects, including a series of pictures for “Interview” Magazine.
In the late 1970s, he grew increasingly interested in documenting the New York S&M scene. In 1977, he participated in Documenta 6 in Kassel, West Germany and in 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York became his exclusive dealer.
He met Lisa Lyon in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, “Lady, Lisa Lyon.” In 1986, he designed sets for Lucinda Childs' dance performance, “Portraits in Reflection”, created a photogravure series for Arthur Rimbaud's “A Season in Hell”, and was commissioned by curator Richard Marshall to take portraits of New York artists for the book “50 New York Artists.”
In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death.
His vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Today Mapplethorpe is represented by galleries in North and South America and Europe, and his work can be found in major museums around the world. His legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums, and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV.