Mapplethorpe's technical

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by David Brown, Apr 16, 2004.

  1. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    First, I don't want to start a discussion of the merits of Robert Mapplethorpe's photos. I will readily admit that he is not my cup of tea, so let's not go into whether he was (or was not) morally bankrupt.

    Having said that, however, I also readily admit that the look of his prints fascinates me. The black and white portraits in "Some Women" are wonderfully lit, and the tonality is beautiful.

    Any knowledge out there on his technique? Film, printing, lighting, filters, etc.

    I know how Avedon got his trademark look. There's lot's of info on Ansel and Ed Weston, but how did this guy work? Technique, not subject matter!

    Love this site! Cheers, all!

    David
     
  2. felipemorgan

    felipemorgan Member

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    I apologize for not being able to cite my source here, but it was a book I checked out some time ago from the library called, I think, "Portraits" or "The Portrait" or the like. It profiled several photographic portrait artists including Mapplethorpe. The salient details I'm remembering are:

    Hasselblad w/ 150mm lens, Tri-x (probably exposed@200), Rodinal 1:25 or 1:50, subjects lit with two umbrella'd strobes, and printing sometimes done with pantyhose material stretched over the enlarger lens for slight diffusion.

    Beautiful simplicity!

    --Philip.
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I agree, I believe the look of the skin was diffusion in the darkroom.


    Michael MCBlane
     
  4. hbc

    hbc Member

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    i love robert maplethorpe's work even though i do not agree with his lifestyle, he had his own artistic vision wich i respect. technically i belive maplethorpe basically just clicked the shutter the rest was done by his assisstants, his favorite printer and one who a lot of credit should go to for the maplethorpe look was tom baril the unsung hero of the art of maplethorpe. once maplethorpe's father asked him' what kind of photographer are you when you do not even develop your own film'?
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    If you've seen original prints, the diffusion under the enlarging lens is pretty obvious, but not on all of his portraits. Many seem to be printed pretty straight.
     
  6. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    His prints really are gorgeous. I've played around with diffusion during printing and found that I got the best results (read most like Mapplethorpe's) using black stocking material stretched over a filter frame, and that would be in place for about half the enlarging time.
     
  7. roy

    roy Member

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    I love his floral work for the simplicity of his style.
     
  8. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've used the AN half of a MF slide frame for diffusion, for between 1/4 and 2/3 of the exposure. Works like a dream.
     
  9. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    My favorite Mapplethorpe book is I believe called "Portraits", or something similar. He got so much out of his subjects. Seemed to be regular Tri-x with a 80 or 150mm lens.
    I read somewhere that Tom Baril did much of his printing. Maybe with Ektalure? Tom has since had a couple books of his own.

    BTW, I bought 2 boxes of Ektalure when it was discontinued and stuck it in the freezer. I'm saving it for portraits worthy of the paper. Unfortuately, I haven't taken any!
     
  10. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Mapplethorpes prints are quite beautiful, in fact I would rate only Paul Caponigros as being better. I have read an authoratitive Mapplethorpe biography that claims he never processed a film or made a print, this was all done by Tom Baril as Tom Duffy has suggested. Apparently when Baril took the job as Mapplethortpes printer he was told by the man that when he went to his loft appartment to work in the darkroom he should stay in there and thereafter the only words that passed between them was when Mapplethorpe said either burn this or dodge that. Baril also processed all film that was exposed.
     
  11. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    I've never seen any of his black and white work which I consider any great shakes, but his color prints were breathtaking. Who did that superb dye transfer work? I would find it hard to believe that the photographer was not involved in producing those prints. They're just too good.
     
  12. Domenico Foschi

    Domenico Foschi Member

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    In the Biography by Patricia Morrisroe titled "Mapplethorpe" the author objectively reveals an artist with many defects , very little virtues as a human being , and as an artist a person who considered the printing stage of his work a waste of time .
    He would actually stress more in the frame and matt choices, then else.
    Tom Baril was his printer , luckily for Mapplethorpe who was detested by the former .
    Personally i find it hard to say that M. wasn't a good artist , because his compositions were flawless, his good taste unique and his lighting was masterful. The courage to push the envelope and speaking from the heart was no doubt his main strength.
     
  13. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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  14. felipemorgan

    felipemorgan Member

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    Today I ran across the book referenced below and it is entitled "Portrait: Theory" ISBN number 0912810343.

    --Philip.

     
  15. wm blunt

    wm blunt Member

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    His platinum prints were done by Martin Axon. Axon printed some on linen or canvas. I saw one in an exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum years ago, a calla lilly printed in platinum on linen, stunning.
     
  16. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    'Portrait: Theory' came out in '81. It was one of an excellent short 'Theory' series published by Lustrum Press. I don't know how many there were altogether, but I have Portrait, Landscape, Darkroom and Darkroom 2.

    Bare details from the book:

    Philip's memory is correct regarding the details, though I can't find a specific mention in the book of the make of camera. He does say that he did not bracket exposures, and that he didn't do his own printing. He used semi-matte Ilfobrom or, for dark-skinned people, the warmer-toned Portriga Rapid.

    He only owned two lenses: an 80 mm and a 150 mm. He considered the 80 to produce too much distortion, and liked having a lot of space between himself and the sitter - so much so that they often couldn't hear his quiet voice.

    He learned about lighting by buying a couple of Lowell quartz lights and doing still-lifes. He preferred daylight over flash and tungsten, but was happy to use all three, and found switching between them to be a good thing.

    The '79 portrait of William Burroughs in his loft was taken using tungsten lights. RM remarks that using tungsten had taught him to create strong shadows artificially, and that he wouldn't have had such a strong shadow with daylight or tungsten.

    The '78 portrait of Patti Smith holding her neck brace was also lit by tungsten, and RM adds that it was shot at f/16 - the aperture he liked to use.

    The '80 portrait of Jennifer Jacobsen holding her breasts was printed with a stocking over the enlarger lens.

    The '80 portrait of John Ford (painter) in the bath was also tungsten.

    The '80 portrait of Claudia Summers was taken with a single strobe bounced off an umberella.

    The '80 portrait of Terry Beans was made with two strobes.

    Best,
    Helen