Robert Mapplethorpe: Phillip Prioleau, 1979. (c) Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Mapplethorpe’s Muses - Phillip Prioleau

We focus on a few of the photographer’s favourite models, including the lover he put on a pedestal

Was Robert Mapplethorpe the sole creative force in his incredible picture making, or was there a collaborative side to his photographs? Leafing through a copy of our new Robert Mapplethorpe book, a revised and updated edition of the most comprehensive survey of the late photographer's work, you might err towards the lonely genius theory; almost every image is so consistently flawless, it looks like the work of one very skilled artist, rather than a changeable group of collaborators.

However, the treatment of one of his subjects, Phillip Prioleau, seems to counter this suggestion. Prioleau was, according to the Getty associate curator Paul Martineau – who helped oversee the 2016 exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium – “Mapplethorpe’s first African-American lover.”


Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe

"At one point, Phillip was interviewed and he explained that during one of the sessions, Mapplethorpe asked, ‘How would you like to be shown?’” Martineau told Vogue around the time of that exhibition's opening. “The model said, ‘I’d really like to be shown on a pedestal.’ So Mapplethorpe got a plant stand, set him up on that, and took his picture.”

It’s a touchingly delicate, and collaborative image. Rather than dominate his subject, Mapplethorpe - at Prioleau's request - literally elevates his lover.

To see this image, as well as others of Prioleau and many other subjects, pre-order your copy of Robert Mapplethorpe here. Edited by Mark Holborn, with an introduction by Andrew Sullivan and a poem by Patti Smith, this hardback book comes in an elegant yet durable slipcase, preserving the beautiful, difficult images, for decades to come. Want to go further with Robert Mapplethorpe? Check out more of his photographs at Artspace.