Photography – A Beginner’s Guide – Fine Art Photography [Robert Mapplethorpe] – An article by Goff James

Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and another update in my photography Beginner’s Guide to Photography.

This week I will be, again, taking a look at Fine Art Photography and looking at an image by Robert Mapplethorpe.

As I have stated in previous articles one can learn so much about photography by looking at; and, talking about other photographers’ work.

Fine Art Photography “photographic art”, “artistic photography”  may be defined as;

  • possessing no universally agreed meaning or definition,
  • referring to an imprecise category of photographs, created in accordance with the creative vision of the photographer.
  • not merely capturing a realistic rendition of the subject, but aiming to produce a more personal – typically more evocative or atmospheric – impression.
  • describing any image taken by a camera where the intention is aesthetic rather than scientific, commercial or journalistic.

  • as a type of photography that represents an idea, a message, or an emotion wherein the artist has something that they want to convey in their work.
  • not being about capturing what the camera sees but about capturing what the artist sees.
  • using the camera as a tool to create a work of art revealing the vision of the artist and making a statement of that vision rather than documenting the subject before the lens.
  • that the recording a subject is not the main purpose.
  • using photography as a means to express a vision and make an artistic statement.
  • the intentional execution of an imagethrough choosing the elements in its structure, framing, appearance, presentation and technical excellence.
  • representing or conveying an idea, a message or an emotion.
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Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily , 1986

The initial appeal of this close up still life lies in the sensitive way the photographer presents a crisp edged highly stylised minimalist black and white image of a single inverted calla lily.

In so doing the image is imbued with an energised dynamism that underscores it with a powerful presence. The image is iconic in the manner in which RM explores botanical still life photography as a means of art making that transcends genres.

The lily dominates the picture plane through carefully orchestration of the composition by placing the flower directly in the centre of the frame and the use of sophisticated lighting.

The image’s subtle gradation of light displays the well-defined lines and the natural shape of the lily. The flower is lit from above which emphasises its paradoxical combination of strength, fragility and ephemerality.

The image’s shallow depth of field and clarity accentuates this and is enhanced further by the careful staging; which, in turn emphasises the meticulous attention to the harmonious arrangement of the dominating sculptural form and underscore its powerful physical presence within a highly controlled environment.

The lily divides the picture plane both horizontally and vertically creating a stark juxtaposition between the contrasting white and black elements.

The leading line of the lily’s curving stem and flower head is echoed by its shadow cast and the of the thin descending sepal which leads the eye directly into the curving blurred pool of light at the bottom of the frame.

The blurred line of this pool of light leads the eye around  the shadow of the lily accentuating the presence and sensuality of the lily itself which hovers above it.

The image with its monochromatic minimalist elegance and subtle gradations of grey tones found on the flower’s trumpet head draws the viewer into the composition to explore the image’s spatial juxtapositions and relationships.

It is the contrast between the black and white that creates and intensifies the dramatic tension of the image.

The stark white flower head juxtaposed against the extreme black background isolates the object and suffuses it with an air of timelessness, poetic, melancholic and symbolic qualities.

It is these qualities that make the viewer reinterpret any self-imposed initial superficial narrative.

The downturned lily can be viewed as a cipher of both masculine and feminine sensuality as well as reflecting a classical physical beauty and aesthetics.

I am obsessed with beauty, I want everything to be perfect, and of course it isn’t. And that’s a tough place to be because you’re never satisfied.

Robert Mapplethorpe

“Taking pictures …and trying to get the best possible view of it.”

Robert Mapplethorpe

It is the sublime erotic element of the lily, that adds to its intrigue, with its drooping head without thinking of the flaccid male member, or the lily’s frilled fringe without visualizing the female vulva.

The very precise architectural shape, perfect form and covert sensual suggestive nature of the flower engages the viewer that demands a response and interpretation of the presented narrative.

The image initiates a discussion with regard to variety of social issues that includes sexuality, race, mortality and death.

I like to look at pictures, all kinds, and all those things you absorb come out subconsciously one way or another.”

Robert Mapplethorpe

I trust that you find some of these ideas useful within the context of your own photography.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and allow different ideas to develop as you go along.

Remember the things which I have referred to in previous articles about taking photos and creating photograms; the same applies to considering your own photos, other photographers’ work as well as applying different artist’s ideas too.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

Remember there are no right or wrong answers or ways of doing it.

Your photographs are your world.

You can do what you like. 

Don’t worry about the theory and trying to remember everything about how to take or consider how to look at or stage a photograph.

Don’t worry about what you might think is right or wrong in talking about or taking photographs.

 Make mistakes. Laugh. Have funJust enjoy the process.

Happy Photography. 

Thank you for your visit.

Art Photography Poetry

Reference List