Christine Strelan - Between the Covers


Robert Mapplethorpe

Bullfinch Press 2003

Robert Mapplethorpe attained notoriety for his homoerotic photographs of naked men with substantial appendages, but you wont find anything like that in here. There are phallic images, certainly, but they are strictly botanical, and many of the flowers are more reminiscent of the female body. Most of the pictures were taken during the final years of Mapplethorpes life, with the intense perception of a man who knew he was dying. These flowers have an almost hallucinatory beauty; I found myself staring at them for ages, gobsmacked by the fine details, tiny hairs, veins, the texture of the petals. The blooms are all photographed in the studio with simple backgrounds. Like Georgia OKeeffes flower paintings, theyre so striking they induce a kind of vertigo. Maybe its just me, but being a bee has never seemed so attractive; the orchid on page 12 glistens in a most provocative manner. The lily on page 32 is so gorgeous, Im getting frisky just looking at it. Which is perhaps what sets this book apart from those charming gardening volumes you might give your granny for Christmas. There is something profoundly sexy about these flowers. Maybe those orchid-lovin grannies are onto something, cultivating floral erotica right under our noses. If the angels have genitals, they probably look like page 23. The book also has a foreword by Patti Smith; she knew Mapplethorpe well, and he photographed some of her album covers. She says, He came, in time, to embrace the flower as the embodiment of all the contradictions revelling within. These pictures certainly do, depicting flowers as simultaneously masculine and feminine, reminding us of ourselves, while looking like they were delivered by Gods intergalactic florist. Mapplethorpes book is a fine record of some of the most exquisite items created by nature; lilies, pitcher plants, irises, orchids, tulips, poppies and a daisy among them. And on page one, a rose, photographed shortly before he died, showing what Patti Smith calls the mystifying aspects of the pure. Nothing made by humans even comes close.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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