Picks and Pans Review: Certain People

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robert Mapplethorpe

No portrait photographer is more attracted to the surface of things than Mapplethorpe. But so sensitive is he to form, light and texture (of skin and clothing particularly), that the effect is far from superficial. A few years ago he wrote, "Photographing men or women...there's little difference. It's like sculpture finally, working with a three-dimensional form. Most of the people I photograph are not trained models or actors, but they all have strong personalities." Part of what rises to the surface, what is forward, in a Mapplethorpe portrait is the self-confidence of his subjects. As Susan Sontag writes in the introduction to this book, "Certain People are, mostly, people found, coaxed or arranged into a certainty about themselves." In the way Mapplethorpe poses his subjects and depicts them, with his palette of coolly assertive and sensuous blacks and charcoal grays, that certainty becomes as solid and immutable as a piece of sculpture. Mapplethorpe, 39, a native New Yorker, came out of art school in 1970 combining Polaroids with paint but quickly became a photographic purist. He isn't attempting to show us what these certain people—including David Byrne, Shelley Duvall, William Burroughs, Frank Langella, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Turner and Sontag herself—are "really" like. He isn't catching them acting natural or catching them at all. He is instead isolating something compelling about them, some authentic fraction of their being, and presenting it in a way that makes it seem monumental. (Twelve-trees, $50)

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