Picks and Pans Review: Lady: Lisa Lyon

updated 03/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/21/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robert Mapplethorpe

Lisa Lyon, who won the First World Women's Bodybuilding Championship in 1979, is the subject of this bizarre, enigmatic book of photographs. There is a brief text by Bruce Chatwin (author of the splendid novel On the Black Hill, published earlier this year) in which he describes the book as "the visual counterpart of a novel, which, like all good novels, mixes fact and fantasy to reveal a greater truth." The problem is determining what great truth is being revealed. In some shots Lyon strikes poses like male body builders, flexing her strong arms and shoulders. In a bikini, she can look as seductive as any bathing beauty. Nude, she sometimes seems an emasculated male. She wears black lingerie and hats with veils, black leather pants and gauntlets, a blond wig and choir robe, a bride's gown and a whole high-fashion wardrobe. Why is that dagger in her hand? Why, lounging in draped white satin, does she pointedly lift a languid arm to reveal dark hair in her armpit? Why does she sit on a throne with a live python coiled around her nude body? At the end she presses a gun to her breasts. These are carefully arranged poses, many very striking. And Mapplethorpe, a Manhattan-based photographer, treats them seriously. Is there some kind of sick joke about the blurring of sex roles? Let's laugh, if uneasily. (Viking, $31.25)

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