Robert Mapplethorpe and I have something in common: as children we both loved chewing our toenails. Fortunately, as a child, Mapplethorpe had an incredible talent for drawing. He became an artistic sensation, turning photography into an art form as it had never been before. I doubt I’ll ever make a career out of chewing my toenails.

As a result of Mapplethorpe’s dying wish that his friends should tell his story – warts and all – we have two hours of funny, irreverent and wonderfully honest interviews in this must-not-miss documentary. The interviews reveal a perfectionist who saw nothing but the merit of composition. Take the image of Ken Moody and Robert Sherman. Viewers ask not “if” the photographer was trying to say something about racism but “what”. But it was form that Mapplethorpe had in mind, not politics. Robert Sherman’s neck just happened to be fractionally longer and sit over Ken Moody’s shoulder a little more neatly. There was zero intent to make a political statement, declare the models, “that just wasn’t what he was about”.

No, that wasn’t what he was about. The documentary shows a man who was about practicality and was unashamed in his efforts to leave his mark on America. He wanted fame and he wanted money and he wanted it from doing what he loved – creating strong visual images. After discovering his sexuality, Mapplethorpe was introduced to and fell in love with Sam Wagstaff, art collector, curator and money-bags. In a breathtakingly candid interview, Mapplethrope admits that Wagstaff’s piles of cash had something to do with how quickly he fell head-over-heels. It makes you like the beautiful boy from Queens even more.

If only I could find a patron who was into toenail biting.

Look at the Pictures was directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. It is currently showing on HBO.


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